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Canon PowerShot A560 Overview

by Dave Etchells
Review Date: 6/14/2007

The Canon PowerShot A560 was introduced in January of 2007, as one of the lower-end models in the A-series lineup. It's a near-twin upgrade of the A550 model that came onto the market slightly before it, but as we'll see, the Canon A560 actually sports a number of worthwhile enhancements relative to the 550 model. To make the comparison easier, here's a list of enhancements the Canon A560 boasts over the A550:

Like the A550, and also an upgrade from earlier low-end models, the Canon A560 has a higher resolution image sensor: 7.1 megapixels, up from 5 megapixels in last year's A530. The 2.5-inch LCD screen also edges out its 1.8" forerunner and the 2.0" screen on the A550. To accommodate the larger file sizes generated by its greater resolution, the A560 is compatible with SDHC memory cards. The A560 is also more energy efficient. With high-capacity rechargeable AA NiMH batteries, you can take up to 1,400 shots with the LCD off, or 550 with the LCD on, impressive numbers by any standard.

The A560’s 4x zoom lens with a 35-140mm 35mm equivalency is a very attractive feature, easily besting the more common 3x zooms. And while many people prefer to simply leave the camera dial permanently on AUTO, this camera’s easy-to-set scene modes are also a help in what might otherwise be challenging conditions.

With its high quality imaging, competent feature set, and wide availability for less than $200, the Canon PowerShot A560 is a great all-around camera, able to meet the needs of a wide range of users. For pros and advanced amateurs, it’s nice to have a pocket-sized alternative to a more bulky digital SLR, yet the price makes this camera an attractive entry for anyone who has been thinking about going digital. As I'll describe below, the camera is not only easy to use, but highly intuitive, making the A560 a great choice for non-technophiles.

 

Canon PowerShot A560
User Report

by Dave Etchells

While it's technically an entry-level camera (only the A550 and A460 are beneath it in the PowerShot lineup), the Canon A560 delivers very respectable performance and image quality. It's a measure of how far the digicam world has come that an "entry level" camera sports a good-quality 4x zoom lens, a 2.5-inch LCD, and usable ISO settings to 800. (The A560 can shoot at ISO 1600, but the image quality there is barely adequate for snapshots. Still, decent-looking 5x7 inch prints at ISO 800 are pretty surprising for a basic, affordable camera these days.)

Pocket Size? Size is often an important consideration for camera users, so it's worth discussing where the Canon A560 fits in the spectrum of available models. I particularly mention size because the features and performance of this camera make it a great all-around, take-anywhere camera, so users are likely to want to pack it along with them wherever they go.

While the Canon A560 isn't as small as Canon's own SD-series models or other subcompact cameras on the market, it does fit fairly well into most pants pockets (unless you're wearing skin-tight jeans), and larger purses. If you really need tiny, look elsewhere, but the A560 is very portable, while avoiding some of the optical and performance trade-offs found in many subcompact models. It's also a good bit cheaper than most subcompacts.

Function menu: Allows you to make quick adjustments via the LCD.

User Interface. I've been a fan of Canon's user interface ever since they adopted their current Function menu design, where frequently-used options appear in a menu running down the left side of the screen when you press the "Function" button. (The button in the center of the 4-way controller on the camera's back.) I've always found this menu setup to be fast, effortless, and pretty much self-explanatory.

For more sweeping mode changes, the Canon A560 uses a conventional Mode Dial on the top of the camera body, with options for fully automatic operation, "Manual" mode, five common Scene modes, an SCN setting that offers a number of less-common Scene options, and Movie mode. In full Auto mode, the camera is a pure "point & shoot", you just aim it at your subject, zoom in or out and push the Shutter button, and the camera does the rest. In Auto mode, you can change the size (resolution) of the captured images, turn the flash off or leave it on Auto, select self-timer or normal shooting modes, and tell the camera whether or not you want it to use high ISO (light sensitivity) settings when warranted, but that's about it. The camera chooses every other setting, and generally does a very good job of it. If you're a beginner, you couldn't ask for a more user-friendly experience.

Top controls: Power, mode dial, zoom controls and shutter. A tried-and-true control interface.

If you're a bit more comfortable with camera settings and options, "Manual" mode gives you more control over things like exposure and white balance, but really experienced shooters may be frustrated with the lack of explicit control over aperture and shutter settings. The camera does always inform you what shutter speed and aperture it's chosen for each shot, but some users (like myself) may wish for more direct control over the exposure process.

If you're willing to make just a small investment in learning the Canon A560's capabilities, a little time spent exploring its rich assortment of Scene modes will be well rewarded. Mode Dial options for Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets and Indoor (the last indicated by a party-horn icon) automatically configure the camera for the various situations their names suggest. These are a great way for novice photographers to bring back good-looking photos from what otherwise would be tricky shooting situations. By pre-setting things like flash mode, white balance, focus options, etc, the A560's Scene modes simplify things a lot for novice shooters. For less common situations, the SCN position on the mode dial provides access to Night Scene, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, and Aquarium options.

The only significant feature missing from earlier Canon models is a stitch-assist mode for making panoramic photos from multiple overlapping exposures. I suspect this was used by relatively few owners, but it's a feature I've always enjoyed playing with myself.

9-point AiAF with Face Detection. Like the rest of its siblings, the A560 uses Canon's excellent 9-point intelligent autofocus system. This means the camera divides the scene into 9 areas, and focuses on what it thinks are the most important parts. (Usually the subjects closest to the camera.) Often, if you don't like the camera's first choice of focus points, simply releasing and lightly pressing the shutter button again will produce another set of points you may like better. It's a fast and convenient way to shoot, and the AiAF system's choice of focus points is right more often than not.

Face Detection in Action: The Canon A560's Face Detection autofocus seemed responsive, and can handle multiple faces in an image.

The Canon A560 takes a big step up from the A550 and last year's predecessors though, with the addition of Face Detection to its focusing system. Face Detection is enabled by default, although you can turn it off if you for some reason don't want the camera to seek out faces. Face detection is appearing in more and more cameras from a variety of manufacturers, but Canon's system is among the best. I've personally found face detection to be really handy, since it not only finds and focuses on faces in the image (which are usually what I care most about having sharply focused), but it also uses the faces it's thus identified to help set exposure and flash intensity. It's really pretty amazing to see it in action, the camera puts little white brackets around the face it's focusing on, and you can see the brackets track the face as you move the camera around and zoom in or out. If it finds more than one face in the image, it'll put grey brackets around the secondary ones to indicate that it recognizes them, but won't be using them for the focus determination. It's fairly intelligent about its choice of which face to use too, generally picking the one that's closest to the center of the frame, but also seemingly taking into consideration size, proximity to the camera, etc. The screen shot at right shows Face Detection in action, with the camera pointed at my computer screen with several of our standard "Marti shots" displayed on it. You can see that the camera picked the face in the upper left as the primary one. (I had been moving the camera around a bit, that one was picked when it was nearer the center of the screen, and the camera continued tracking it as it moved away from center.) The other two faces show the grey secondary-face brackets around them. Very slick!

Responsiveness. All in all, the Canon A560 was pretty responsive in our tests, although it was just a little sluggish in continuous mode. Start-up was pretty quick, capturing the first image just 1.5 seconds after being turned on according to our lab results. There's a modest delay (about 1.6 seconds) between shots in single-shot mode, and the camera takes a bit over 10 seconds to recharge after a full-power flash exposure. That's quite a bit longer than average, even though the flash itself doesn't seem to be any more powerful than those in competing models. In continuous mode, the A560 managed only 1.3 frames/second. Not bad, but we expected more from its Digic III processor. The zoom was reasonably fast and responsive, about what we'd expect for this kind of camera.

Viewfinder. While I'm personally a big believer in optical viewfinders, on a practical basis, I most often use the rear panel LCDs to frame my photos when I'm shooting with digicams. This is partly because I can often see more detail on a nice big LCD screen than in the itty-bitty optical VF, but also because I'm often already looking at the LCD screen to monitor and adjust camera settings anyway.

The Canon A560 offers a 115,000 pixel, 2.5-inch LCD, which takes up much of the camera's rear panel. While 115,000 pixels is fairly low resolution, I didn't really feel it was lacking in detail. (That said though, more pixels would definitely be nice. Hard to argue over, given the A560's price though.) The LCD screen did get a little washed out in bright sunlight but never became totally unusable.

Grid and mask: Turning on the grid helps you frame your shots, and the mask shows you how your shots will look printed on 4x6 paper.

I very often find myself using the Grid overlay on digicams that offer this feature. It makes it easy to keep my verticals and horizontals aligned as they should be, something I find surprisingly easy to forget about when I'm quickly snapping photos. Having an alignment grid displayed on-screen is a handy reminder, not to mention a useful tool for getting the alignment just right. The A560's grid is easy to turn on from the main shooting menu, just scroll down to the Disp. Overlay option. There's also an option to show a mask that trims the image top and bottom to give a 3:2 aspect ratio. This lets you see what part of the image will fit into a 4x6 inch print. The screen shot at left shows both features in play.

Battery/Card door: Under the battery door, you'll find the battery compartment, the SD card slot, and the backup battery sled. (Shot from A550, A560 is identical.)

Power. The Canon A560 is powered by a pair of AA batteries, convenient if you need to find power in remote parts of the world. It's also a great idea to buy a pair of the (very expensive) Lithium AA cells sold by Eveready. They have a very long shelf-life and pack lots of power, so you can just stash a couple of them in your camera bag, and always have a backup power source at hand. (They're too expensive for routine use, but just great for this sort of emergency backup.)

The trade-off with AA cells is the A560's bulkiness in comparison to some of Canon's Digital ELPH cameras, but there are a lot of are folks who will buy nothing but AA-powered cameras, avoiding custom battery packs like the plague. If you're one of them, the A560 is for you. (Do get a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable cells and a good charger for them though, you'll save many times the cost of batteries + charger over the life of the camera.) One piece of good news though, is how sparingly the A560 sips power: Even normal alkaline batteries last a surprisingly long time in it.

ISO 1600? High ISO (high light sensitivity) is a feature being touted by many manufacturers these days, but it's often accompanied by image quality ranging from bad to unbelievably awful. The Canon A560 sports ISO settings as high as 1600, and does better than many compact cameras at that setting. That said though, don't expect to be making poster-size from your ISO 1600 shots. At ISO 1600, color suffers somewhat, and even 4x6 inch prints show very noticeable grain. A grainy picture is perhaps better than one blurred by too much subject or camera motion, but as a consumer, you need to take really high ISO ratings for compact digicams with a large grain of salt. (If you really need high-ISO performance, bite the bullet and buy a digital SLR: The worst DSLR does way better than the best consumer digicam at high-ISO shooting.)

At ISO 800 though, image quality improves quite a bit, to the point that most users will likely find 5x7 inch prints quite acceptable, and even 8x10 inch ones will probably be fine to display on a wall, shelf or other location where people aren't likely to walk up and squint at them at close range. This is quite an achievement compared to what was possible just a couple of years ago. Don't get me wrong, images at ISO 800 definitely have noise in them, but many users will find the results quite acceptable for snapshots and even modest enlargements.

At low ISO settings, shots from the Canon A560 show excellent color and a lot of detail. You can easily make 13x19 inch prints from them, if you have a printer that can handle paper that large.

Speaking of color, the Canon A560 generally did well with its white balance: While Auto wasn't perfect with our indoor test subject, it wasn't at all bad (some people would prefer the amount of warmth it left in the images), while Incandescent and Manual both did an excellent job of handling the very warm household incandescent lighting. (Most homes in the US use incandescent or warm-white compact fluorescent lighting, very warm-hued light sources that are very hard for many digital cameras to handle properly.)

Summary. The Canon PowerShot A560 is an excellent basic digital camera for all-around usage. While not as small as many subcompacts, it fits in most pants pockets or larger purses, and avoids some of the optical, image quality, and performance trade-offs that are often found in subcompact models. It offers a lot of capability (and great looking images) for the money, and a range of features that should suit beginning through intermediate photographers very well. All in all, it's a great entry-level camera, but one with at least some features to grow into as your photographic skills mature.

If you have just a little more money, you might consider the A570 IS, which adds a few higher-end features from the ELPH series in about the same form factor, as well as an image-stabilized lens for sharper shots under dim lighting. If you're just looking for a simple, good-performing digital camera to get started with though, the Canon A560 is hard to beat.

 

Basic Features

 

Special Features

 

In the Box

The Canon PowerShot A560 box includes the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • High resolution with excellent image quality
  • Face-detection focus mode is very handy, works well (defaults to 9-point AF if no faces are found)
  • 4x zoom lens is longer than many in the category and offers excellent coverage
  • Very good exposure accuracy
  • Easy-setting scene modes
  • Custom white balance
  • Generally low distortion
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Large 2.5-inch LCD
  • Macro mode captures a very small area
  • Good low light capability
  • Comfortable handling
  • Accepts AA batteries and provides good battery life
  • "Broadcast quality" movie mode with sound up to 30fps at 640x480
  • High ISO performance is very good
  • ISO 80 prints are great up to 13x19; ISO 800 prints are quite good at 8x10
  • Documentation comes in two separate booklets, making it a pain to look things up
  • While large, LCD resolution is on the low side
  • No manual control of aperture or shutter speed
  • Slow flash recycle (10 seconds!)
  • Continuous mode shooting is on the slow side
  • No brightness adjustment for the LCD; sometimes looks washed out in bright light, but not totally obscured
  • Battery polarity indicators are hard to see, easy to get batteries reversed
  • Too easy to accidentally change the ISO setting

 

The Canon PowerShot A560 is another great little camera from Canon. While classed and priced as an entry-level camera, the A560 takes great, high-resolution shots, has a nice 4x zoom lens, and is quite easy to use. The user interface is clean and uncluttered, the combination of no-nonsense mode dial and simple Function menu making it easy to get to the functions you'll use most frequently. There's also a very good movie mode for collecting "video snapshots" at quality levels as high as 640x480 pixels and 30 frames/second. The biggest plus over its little brother the A550, though, is its Face-Detection autofocus system, a very handy feature when photographing people, and one that worked very well in our use of the camera. To those of us who've been dealing with digital cameras for a while, it's amazing that an under-$200 entry level camera can capture enough detail to make beautiful 13 x 19 inch prints (let alone with all the 560's other features as well), but that's exactly what the Canon A560 does. This is a great little all-around camera, at a great price, an easy Dave's Pick as one of the better cameras on the market in its price range.