PowerShot A80

Canon created a sensation this summer with the EOS 300D (reviewed, page 63), the first digital SLR to be even vaguely affordable – but arguably, compact digital cameras remain its most interesting creations. The latest of these is the 4-megapixel aluminium-clad PowerShot A80, succeeding the simpler A70 and A60 models. Resolution aside, new features include a pull-out LCD swivel screen, upgraded electronics, and a redesigned 38mm-114mm (35mm equivalent) 3x optical zoom. Although it borrows a conventional compact design from the cheaper models, we’ve come to the conclusion that the A80 is actually, on the quiet, quite a radical proposition. In Canon’s range – and with digital cameras generally – there is usually a trade-off between size and performance. Smaller models, such as Canon’s Ixus range, appeal to the cult of ‘tiny tech’ – perfect for the undemanding snapper. By contrast, a camera such as the Canon G5 approaches the optical and feature sophistication of the best film cameras, but is larger, heavier, and takes longer to master. The A80, cleverly, sets out to offer a bit of both worlds. You get an army of shooting and flash exposure modes (including aperture/shutter priority and full manual), light sensitivity down to 50 ISO, and three light-metering modes, all from a lens that can stop down to f2.8. Ready, aim...
Shutter speeds run from 15 to 1/2,000th second. Like a grown-up camera, it even takes optional wide angle, telephoto and close-up lenses. Importantly, however, the A80 does all this while staying relatively small and portable – if slightly weighty at 350g with batteries. The internal electronics appear to be identical to those in the more-expensive S45 and Ixus 400 cameras, which could explain the A80’s responsiveness. It turns on and extends the lens in three seconds, while the assist beam makes focusing speedy and reasonably reliable. Even at the highest 2,272-x-1,704-pixel resolution set to ‘superfine’, it writes the image to memory in under four seconds. Few cameras can match that at this price-point. Image-quality and colour-rendition are excellent, as is the metering system. As long as you don’t overuse automatic mode, compensating for minor deficiencies such as white-balance is straightforward.


Is it perfect? Of course not. As ever, you need to buy rechargeable AA cells (it uses four), and a larger CompactFlash card – the 32MB one supplied takes only 14 images at top resolution. A larger LCD screen would have been nice, as would video resolution better than the weedy 320-x-240 pixels offered. A good tip is invest in a high-speed card reader, as the camera’s USB 1.0 port is an obvious bottleneck. With the A80, you’re getting a complex little animal in a deceptively conventional body. Some may prefer to buy Canon’s G5 to get every feature going. The A80’s half the price and half the size, but just as much fun.

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