Canon PowerShot A700 Overview
By: Mike Pasini and Dave Etchells
Review posted: 05/31/2006
Canon is continually expanding its PowerShot A-series cameras, even as they reduce some of their other lines. The new A700, announced just before Spring PMA 2006, is the first step in yet another expansion of the A-series to a new level. This time the expansion is more than about pixels, but includes a longer lens than any A-series previously, reaching to 6x, or an equivalent of 35 to 210mm, making the PowerShot A700 excellent for all-purpose photography.
The Canon A700 also includes a respectable 6.0 megapixel sensor, more than enough for tack-sharp 11x14 inch prints. Like most of the other cameras announced at the same time, the A700 also includes an ISO range from 80 to 800. ISO 800 should be very good for indoor low-light shots.
Like nearly every other Canon A-series camera, the PowerShot A700 is replete with features to make the camera easier to use. You can just lock it into full Auto mode to point and shoot, or just turn the dial for gradually more and more control. Fourteen Scene modes allow you to look like a pro while the camera tunes its settings for certain situations, like Portrait, Snow, Beach, and even a setting for Fireworks.
An advanced movie mode allows you to capture TV-quality 640x480 or 320x 240 videos at 30 frames per second with the Canon A700.
A fast USB 2.0 connection allows easy offload of images from the SD or MMC card to a Mac or PC. You can even bypass the computer and print directly from the PowerShot A700 to a Canon or other PictBridge-enabled printer via the same USB connection.
Though it has a large 2.5 inch LCD, Canon didn't eliminate the A700's optical viewfinder, something we're seeing from other manufacturers. For saving battery life, sometimes it helps to turn off that LCD and just use the optical viewfinder. Despite its numerical position in the line, the A700 is lighter than the A620, partly owing to its use of only two AA batteries instead of the latter's four. In this sense, the A700 is quite the light, stealthy camera; more akin to the A500 series with its slimmer profile and lighter weight.
Any of the millions of A-series owners, going back to owners of the runaway bestseller A70, will find the A700 quite attractive. It's a smart, practical camera with a reasonable resolution, a big LCD, and a pretty long zoom, pressed into a small, light package that uses only two AA batteries. The A700 is another well-placed step in Canon's ongoing effort to make the PowerShot A-series the most complete line of family cameras on the market.
Canon A700 User Report
by Mike Pasini
|The A700 Fully Extended|
|The Battery Compartment. AAs tucked next to the little clock battery drawer with the SD card slot at top.|
Not to Canon. Its A-Series digicams use AAs and the latest crop use only two. And these two require no compromise in performance. There are features galore and I never had to change batteries in the middle of a shoot.
|PASM & Shutter|
Canon doesn't always mean Manual when it says Manual (generally only offering control over a few more exposure factors, like white balance, than Auto). But in the case of the A700, they mean it. You can control the shutter from 15 to 1/2000 second (depending on aperture) and the aperture from f2.8 to f8.0 (depending on focal length).
I find that important for two reasons. The first is that Auto occasionally disappoints. And the solution to those disappointments is often taking some small aspect of control back from the camera. The Canon A700 is happy to oblige. Secondly, though, having PASM on your camera means you can grow with it. You can read about some technique and actually try it out with this camera. You can't say that about every $350 digital camera out there.
The Canon A700 is just one of the A-Series cameras, however. It distinguishes it from its siblings with its 6.0 megapixel sensor, generous enough for very nice-looking 11x14 prints, and even more so by its 6x optical zoom lens. The A540, a near clone to the A700, has instead a 4x optical zoom -- both more generous than the common 3x zoom lenses found on many consumer digital cameras. At 6x, you don't need optical stabilization or an electronic viewfinder either.
|The Canon A700 & A540|
There are some other interesting features to explore, like the two Auto ISO settings and the unusually intimate macro mode. But to do that, we've got to go shoot!
Design. An AA-based design can't be super-compact, and the A-Series isn't. But it is small enough not to require any special consideration or luggage.
In the hand, it's quite comfortable. Your right hand wraps around the battery compartment, easily nesting the heaviest part of the camera. It isn't heavy but it isn't as light as a feather either. When you press the shutter, the camera doesn't yield. And that large shutter button can't be missed, either. When your thumb effortlessly finds the empty space on the back panel, you're ready to shoot.
You can get at most controls with your thumb, although it would be wise to stabilize the camera with your right hand while you do. You mainly work the Function/Set button, the four-way navigator, the Exposure Compensation/Delete button and the Menu button, all within reach of your thumb.
|An LCD Plus Optical VF|
Display. The LCD is your primary display, even moreso than usual. That's because the Canon A700 features a Wide format that the optical viewfinder knows nothing about. (Wide format actually just crops the sensor image top and bottom a little. You could get the same effect by cropping the images on your computer after they were shot, the A700's Wide format just does it for you, right in the camera.) The optical viewfinder is handy for brightly lit conditions, but it isn't terribly accurate. Its lens seems pushed over by the flash so the back end, centered over the LCD, actually has to take an odd angle on the scene.
The LCD is bright and has sufficient resolution that you can actually admire your shots after you take them. There's no live histogram, however, something I miss. But Canon does provide an optional grid overlay that makes it easy to line up horizons and vertical elements. (There is a histogram display available in playback mode, so you can check your exposure after the fact, but I personally really like having a live histogram available in record mode.)
|Optical VF. On the left edge, note the optical viewfinder eyepiece and compare to the right edge where the optical viewfinder lens sits. Not a straight-through path.|
With all the controls within thumb's reach, I couldn't complain about making changes to the exposure options either. The EV setting was blissfully simple. Press the button, use the navigator, take a shot, use the navigator, take another.
I really liked having the 6x zoom. I'm used to the range a 3x zoom offers, but wary of long zooms because I just can't hold them still even to see what I'm shooting. But 6x is a nice boost from 3x and safe from the impracticality of a non-stabilized 10x.
Shooting. With the A700 strapped to my wrist, I only had to swing it up, dial in a shooting mode, press the power button and compose to get my shot. It couldn't have been simpler.
Faced with a more complex situation, say some bright flower in my yard, I'd add a little exposure compensation, half-pressing the shutter button to get a preview of the adjustment. That was even more fun that just taking the shot with Auto.
|Wide Mode. Shooting at 16:9 is fun and the A700 knows how to have fun.|
|A Little Loopy|
Why two Auto ISO settings? The point of an Auto ISO setting is to automatically increase sensitivity to use a faster shutter speed so you won't capture blurred images. Normal ISO, available in Auto, Program, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority modes, won't set sensitivity so high that noise is introduced. But High ISO Auto isn't afraid of a little noise. It's only available in Auto and Program mode, but that's enough to let you decide whether you'd rather err on the side of blur or noise.
Tapping into ISO 800 is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you'll get a noisy image. On the other, it will be sharp. Next to image stabilization, high ISO sensitivity is a real blessing for natural light shooting, something I'm particularly fond of. So, I'm glad to see ISO 800 available on the A700. I can think of half a dozen ways to deal with the noise in my image editing software later. But there's nothing you can do about a blurred image.
|Macro Mode. Shooting macro is fun, too, but you might want more elbow room.|
Movie mode (one of the fun reasons to buy a digital camera, after all) is impressive at 640x480 and 30-fps. That's broadcast quality. It's a little disappointing that you can't record in a 16:9 aspect ration (since you can take stills that way), but you do get to zoom while recording sound. And you don't really pick up much motor noise, either, something many digital cameras struggle with.
|Direct Printing. Plug in a USB cable and the Canon A700 becomes a print kiosk.|
One thing I didn't like so much about the Canon A700 was its manual, or more properly manuals. The camera manual is split into two volumes, a thin Basic User Guide, and a thicker Advanced one. This is perhaps a blessing to neophytes who might be intimidated by all the detail in the Advanced guide, but as a more sophisticated user, I found it maddening having to switch back and forth between the two guides to find information that was listed solely in one or the other.
Conclusion. I had no real quibbles with the Canon A700 (apart from the double-manual system), and lots of pleasant surprises. In the end what I most loved about this AA battery-based gem was the 6x zoom and manual control of exposure with an unusually easy to find and use EV adjustment setting.
- 6.0-megapixel CCD delivering image dimensions as large as 2,816 x 2,112 pixels
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor
- Real-image optical viewfinder
- Glass, 6x 5.8-34.8mm lens (equivalent to 35-210mm zoom on a 35mm camera)
- 4.0x digital zoom
- AiAF autofocus and a manual focus mode
- AF Assist light for low-light focusing
- Automatic, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as 10 preset Scene modes plus Stitch Assist
- Manually adjustable aperture setting ranging from f/2.8 to f/8.0, depending on lens zoom position and shutter speed
- Shutter speed range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, depending on aperture (Shutter times longer than 1 second only available in shutter-priority and manual exposure modes and some scene modes.)
- Built-in flash with three operating modes plus red-eye reduction
- SD/MMC memory storage
- Power supplied by two AA batteries or optional AC adapter
- Movie mode (with sound), up to 640x480 at 30 fps
- Sound caption recording
- Stitch-Assist mode for panoramic shots
- Continuous Shooting and a variable delay Self-Timer mode
- Creative Effects menu
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes
- ISO adjustment with six ISO equivalents and two Auto settings
- Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included)
In the Box
The PowerShot A700 box includes the following items:
- PowerShot A700 camera
- Wrist strap WS-200
- Two AA-type alkaline batteries
- USB cable IFC-400PCU
- AV cable AVC-DC300
- 16MB MMC memory card MMC-16
- Software CD
- Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit
- Larger capacity SD/MMC card. (At least 128 MB recommended.)
- Two sets of high-capacity rechargeable AA batteries and a good-quality battery charger
- AC adapter kit
- Soft case
- High Power Flash HF-DC1
- Lens accessory kits
Featuring a 6x optical zoom, 6.0-megapixel CCD, automatic, partial, or fully manual exposure control, and a wide range of preset shooting modes, the PowerShot A700 is another fine addition to Canon's A-series of digital cameras. Built on the same long-tested design as many A-series predecessors, the Canon A700 offers a lot in its compact package. Its combination of automatic and manual features make it very approachable for novices, but interesting for experienced users, the net result being a camera that will satisfy a broad range of interests and provide a good path for novice users to expand their photographic horizons as their experience grows. The 6x zoom lens is quite easy to hand-hold under reasonably bright lighting, but as the light fades, the A700's lack of image stabilization will come to be more of a factor. I'd also like to see it equipped with a more accurate optical viewfinder, and its image noise at ISO 800 was on the high side. Bottom line though, this is a camera that will meet the needs of the average consumer very well, and one that's particularly well suited to situations where both novice and experienced users need to share the use of the same camera. It would also make a great inexpensive camera for a budding photo student to learn about the effects of shutter speed and aperture variations with. All in all, an easy Dave's Pick.