Canon PowerShot A710 IS Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 11/02/06
The Canon PowerShot A710 IS couples a 7 megapixel CCD imager sensor with an image stabilized 6x optical zoom lens that offers a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 35 to 210mm -- a moderate wide angle to a useful telephoto. With a total range of 6x optical zoom, this is quite a bit more than most compact cameras offer, and the inclusion of a stabilizer should help ensure photos aren't blurred from camera shake at the telephoto end of the zoom. Maximum apertures vary from f/2.8 to f/4.8 across the zoom range. The A710's sensor yields an ISO range equivalent to 80 to 800, while shutter speeds from 1/2000 to 15 seconds are possible.
Designed with ease of use in mind, the Canon A710 IS offers a range of features that make it approachable to beginners, plus the ability to exert more control over the photographic process. For the former category of users, there's a fully automatic mode, and a generous selection of thirteen scene modes. For the latter, you'll find manual and aperture/shutter priority exposures possible, plus preset or manual white balance, and three metering modes. A VGA-or-below movie mode captures videos at a maximum of 30 frames per second, for up to one hour (or one gigabyte) per clip.
A USB connection allows easy offload of images from the SD or MMC card to a Mac or PC. And unlike some manufacturers who are still clinging to the older USB 1.1/2.0 Full Speed standard, Canon has adopted a much swifter USB 2.0 High Speed interface in the Canon A710. For users without a computer (or those who like to make quick prints without the hassle of touching their PC), you can bypass the extra step completely and print directly from the PowerShot A710 IS to a Canon or other PictBridge-enabled printer via the same USB connection.
Though it has a relatively large 2.5 inch LCD, Canon retained a real image optical viewfinder in the A710's design. Not only can optical viewfinders help to save battery life by turning off the LCD display, but they're also useful when ambient light makes it tough to see many LCDs properly. Power comes from two AA batteries, and Canon includes single-use alkaline disposables in the product bundle. Also included with the Canon A710 is a not-so-generous 16MB Secure Digital card. If you don't already have some, you'll want to purchase some rechargeable batteries and a larger flash card along with the camera.
Canon A710 IS User Report
The Canon A710 arrived just in time to take the trip with us to Cologne for photokina 2006. It seemed that just as we bemoaned the A700's lack of image stabilization, Canon put the A710 together with just that additional feature. How could we complain?
It's remarkable how quickly image stabilization has, as a feature, propagated. You see it on digicams with even modest zoom ranges because it permits two to three stops more natural light shooting. Its popularity is the direct inverse, I think, of the aggravation everyone has expressed about red-eye. It is, in fact, the perfect antidote to red-eye. Turn off the flash and use image stabilization with the Canon A710.
Canon has implemented it on the A710 as a lens-shift design, moving lens components rather than the image sensor. It can be operating continuously or only when the image is captured. It can also be restricted to correct up/down blurring during horizontal panning.
Design. Somehow, the Canon A710 seemed a bit sleeker to us, more like the S3 than the A700. The only unsleek thing about it was something we really liked. Like all other A-Series Canons, it's an AA battery camera and that means it has a nice bulging hand grip. Not a very obtrusive one, but more than the little ridges, bumps and fins compact digicams offer. So you can actually operate the Canon A710 safely with just one hand, your thumb dancing around the four buttons and one navigator on the back panel.
The A700 requires only two AA cells, rather than the usual four. The difference, according to Canon, is 360 shots instead of 500, but my heaviest day at photokina required about 130 shots per camera. Much as I like the grip and much as I like AA cells, two is better than four.
Otherwise, I'd rave about what a great travel companion the Canon A710 turned out to be. In fact, as I flew over half the world, it was easy to slip out of our camera bag and shoot a few dozen pictures of the planet, a diversion I enjoy more and more. And it was also easy to pack along as I wandered the streets of Cologne.Oddly enough, I wasn't as fond of the Canon A710 for shooting photokina itself. There's a lot to be said for what Canon calls a "variable" LCD, permitting you to see what you're doing when you hold the camera above your head or below your belt -- or just angling the LCD to avoid glare while you focus on your subject.
Fortunately, Canon makes a few A-Series digicams with variable LCDs. In fact, the one Canon bash I attended sent us home with a municipal road crew orange bag packed with their catalogs and press releases. Look carefully and you're bound to find the model with all the features you want. If not, just wait a few months for the next model. Somehow I think I'll see an A7xx with a variable screen before long.
For a body that's partly metal, it's odd to discover that the tripod mount is plastic. There are no plastic tripod screws, so guess what gets stripped if you overtighten?
Display/Viewfinder. The one drawback of an articulated LCD is that it requires a sturdy frame so the LCD itself can't be very large. No three-inch LCDs. But at 2.5 inches, the Canon A710's LCD is the same size as the variable LCDs on the A640 and A630. Unfortunately, it only displays 115,000 pixels.
The interesting thing about the Canon A710 is that it also includes, like its predecessor, an optical viewfinder. This matters a great deal to a large number of people. In bright conditions, most LCDs are unusable. And bright conditions are photogenic conditions. So being able to resort to an optical viewfinder is a welcome relief.
On the other hand, Luke (who shot all the test shots for this model) had a different appreciation of the optical viewfinder. "Horrible, sloppy, blurry, distorted, misframed, nearly useless (and unfortunately, typical) optical viewfinder," he wrote in his shooters notes. Typical is the revealing word, I think. These things tend to be tiny and the Canon A710's is very small, like looking through the eye of a needle. It's only an approximation of what the lens is looking at, but sometimes that's all you need.
Performance. The Canon A710 wouldn't have made much of a travel companion if it took forever to get ready and forever to get settled. A good travel companion has to be ready before the bus and unpacked as soon as the door to the room swings open. The Canon PowerShot A710 approximated that behavior very well.
This was no more true than in the plane. It may not feel like it, but the landscape changes every few seconds. And no digicam battery can last as long as an international flight. So when you see something to shoot, you turn the camera on, take a few shots, and turn it off. The Canon A710 was responsive enough to do that without aggravation.
At 6x optical zoom, the Canon A710's lens is the longest (250mm) in the A-Series, all of which get as wide as 35mm (not terribly wide). It's a fairly fast lens at f2.8-f4.8 and image stabilization makes it even faster in practical use.
The 7.1 megapixel sensor offers more resolution than the A700's 6.0 megapixels, but less than the 10 megapixel A640 or the 8.0 megapixel A630. If that's a concern for you, study the ISO noise images to see how these models compare. The more megapixels at this sensor size, the more noise.
Shooting. I made much of the A700's PASM options -- particularly its real Manual mode -- and the Canon A710 inherits that versatility (and praise). There is, typically, no one correct exposure. There are several, ranging from a wide open lens to a stopped down lens at various shutter speeds to complement the aperture (and vice versa).
When you limit yourself to green Auto mode, you're telling the camera to pick something in the middle. On the Canon A710, you can't adjust Auto mode.
But what's a "correct" exposure? Often what the light meter is rendering in middle gray isn't representative of the subject. Neither black cat or a white rabbit, for example, should be gray. Program mode lets you adjust exposure by setting EV compensation. It isn't quite a full Program mode (letting you adjust either the shutter speed or aperture and compensating with the other variable), but more like Auto on most digicams.
The Canon A710's versatility is really in the other three standard modes. You can select a different correct exposure (adjusted with EV compensation, if you like) with a more open or closed aperture in Aperture Priority mode, or a slower or faster shutter speed using Shutter Priority mode.
If you only want to limit the shutter speed to handheld speeds, Shutter Priority is the ticket. Set it at 1/60 second or 1/30 (if you can handle it) and you don't have to worry about camera shake. Ranging from 15 seconds to 1/2000 second, you have quite a few choices.
Aperture Priority does the same for your lens stop if your concern is depth of field. Like most digicams, the aperture options on the Canon A710 are fairly restricted, ranging from f/2.8 to f/8.0 at wide angle and f/4.8 to f/8.0 at telephoto. Still, that's a few stops to work with.
And then there's Manual mode for complete control.
These four modes -- Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual -- are surprisingly absent on many digicams. I was very happy to see them on the Canon A710.
I used to have a good deal of trouble navigating Canon's menu system, but I find it a lot simpler these days. In Auto, you don't worry about the buttons at all. In Program, just hit the EV button and change the exposure with the Left or Right arrow keys. Shutter and Aperture Priority modes use those arrow keys to adjust their values, too. Manual uses the EV button to toggle between aperture and shutter speed, both adjusted with those same arrow keys.
There are Scene modes, yes, but I never resorted to them, frankly. Some manufacturers offer dozens of them, but Canon puts a few (like Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Panorama and Movie) on the A710's Mode dial and others (like Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Color Accent and Color Swap) under the Scene option of the Mode dial. I prefer Canon's focus on PASM over Scene modes, but there are some cute tricks (like keystoning business cards) I wish were included in the Scene modes. Not, that is, just some convenient configurations but some advanced processing.
I did miss a live histogram, but the Canon A710 shows a histogram in Playback mode. But I found I could trust the Canon A710 enough that I didn't flip back and forth between Record and Playback mode.
In-camera photostitching hasn't come to the Canon line yet (although HP and Kodak both offer it), but you can take panoramas to be merged into one shot later on a computer using the included PhotoStitch application.
One large aggravation with Canon in general and the A710 especially is the difficulty I had rotating Canon images into the proper orientation. I found that if you turn off the Auto Rotation feature, the images were fine, but once the Canon A710 was allowed to intervene in the rotation process, we lost control depending on which program I decided to use. It's one very rough spot in a relatively smooth ride.
- 7.1-megapixel CCD delivering image dimensions as large as 3,072 x 2,304 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
- Image stabilization
- Movie mode (with sound), up to 640 x 480 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 Canon PowerShot A710 box includes the following items:
- PowerShot A710 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. (These days, a 512MB or 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- 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
Outright prolonged applause for the introduction of image stabilization in the A-Series. Canon's retention of an optical viewfinder on the PowerShot A710, no matter how spare, is also to be applauded. Startup and shutdown are quick and the menu option you need is quickly at hand, too. The Canon A710 has enough megapixels for excellent resolution in enlargements without risking much image noise. The A710's excellent 6x zoom is impressive, and a great argument in favor of picking a slightly larger camera over those sexy slim cameras, with great corner sharpness and very little chromatic aberration. A variable LCD would have made the Canon PowerShot A710 more useful to me, and I would have appreciated a live histogram, but that's just quibbling. The Canon A710 is a very nice piece of equipment to have at hand, which makes it an easy Dave's Pick.