Canon A720 IS Review
Canon PowerShot A720 IS Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Generally good color accuracy and overall saturation, despite slight hue shifts and some slight oversaturation.
Saturation. The Canon PowerShot A720 IS oversaturates strong red and blue tones a little, but holds bright yellows and greens in check, without undersaturating them either. Despite the slight oversaturation, color looked great in our test shots, with a pleasing, natural vibrancy. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the Canon A720's skin tones were a little warm, with some reddish tints. Since most people prefer skin tones to be warmer rather than cooler, the A720 IS performs fairly well. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The PowerShot A720 IS showed a few color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, pushing cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and yellow toward green. Despite these shifts, overall color was still pleasing. Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual and Incandescent white balance settings, though a hint warm. Average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was very slightly warm and yellow with the Auto white balance setting, but still not bad. The Manual and Incandescent options produced more accurate results. We chose the Manual option as the best overall, because it had slightly less of a magenta cast than the Incandescent setting. The Canon A720 IS required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +1.0 EV, though even here, the white shirt borders on being too bright. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is excellent, though with just a hint of magenta, and the blue flowers are just a little dark with hints at purplish tints. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the Canon A720 IS actually performed a little better than average.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Good exposure and color outdoors. Contrast is slightly high and highlights do blow out, but shadow detail is good.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Canon PowerShot A720 IS performed very well, with good exposure and overall color. Though contrast was a little high under the harsh outdoor lighting, the shadows and held onto a lot of fine detail, despite some visible noise and noise suppression. Highlights, on the other hand, were blown out, especially in the white window of the house shot; though only part of Marti's shirt blew out. The camera's contrast adjustment on the outdoor house shot did a good job of producing a more even exposure. Color looked good on both the house and portrait shots, with vibrant hues and natural tones.
High resolution, 1,500 to 1,600 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height in both directions, though vertically, lines are better at 1,500. Extinction occurred right at about 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images overall, with minimal edge-enhancement and only slight noise suppression.
Sharpness. The Canon A720 IS captures sharp images with very good detail definition. Some slight edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but performance is very good here. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows only moderate noise suppression, with the darkest areas of Marti's hair showing slightly limited detail, though individual strands are distinguishable in the more moderate shadows. A very good result. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a big jump in noise with strong blurring at the highest settings.
|ISO 80||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
Noise levels are low to moderate at the Canon PowerShot A720 IS' lower sensitivity settings, with good results up to ISO 200. At ISO 400, noise jumps with brighter pixels, blurring fine detail a little. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise is much higher with stronger blurring, as you might expect. Results are still passable at ISO 800, considering the higher sensitivity, but at 1,600, noise pixels dominate the image.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail under harsh sunlight, though slightly high contrast. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and even darker conditions.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Canon PowerShot A720 IS performed pretty well under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, though contrast is high. Shadow detail is pretty good considering the high contrast, though the highlights on the white shirt are a bit too bright. Still, despite some noise and a little noise suppression in the shadows, detail is good. The camera required about average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +0.7 EV, though again, the white shirt is a little too hot. Consider reducing the contrast setting with the Canon A720 IS, and be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
Low light. The Canon PowerShot A720 IS performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level almost down to the lowest sensitivity setting. At ISO 80, the image at 1/16 foot-candle was a little dim. Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject almost down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (To get low light shots like this, a useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
Slightly dim exposures at the default exposure setting; the camera required less than average exposure compensation for the normal flash exposures. Pretty good range, though not quite strong enough for the 6x optical zoom.
|35mm equivalent||210mm equivalent|
|Normal Flash +0.7 EV||Slow-Sync Flash +1.3 EV|
Coverage. Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, with some falloff in the corners of the frame. The flash was almost out of range for our viewfinder accuracy/flash coverage target at telephoto (thanks to the camera's 6x optical zoom range). Indoors, under incandescent background lighting, the Canon A720 IS' flash underexposed our subject slightly at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode required a little more positive compensation at +1.3 EV, though overall coverage is more even. However, the longer shutter speed results in a strong orange cast from the background lighting.
ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained bright out to a distance of about 10 feet, decreasing in brightness from that point on. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target was bright to about eight feet and darkened gradually from there.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 320
Auto ISO 200
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the PowerShot A720 IS performs exactly as Canon says it will, slightly overexposing the target at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 320). At telephoto, the image is slightly underexposed, though the camera only boosted ISO to 200 to compensate. Had the camera reversed its automatic ISO selection, it might have been just right in both shots. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Good print quality, great color, good 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 11x14, ISO 800 shots are good at 8x10, ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 4x6.
The Canon A720 IS had enough resolution to make good looking 13x19-inch prints from ISO 80 and 100 shots. 11x14 prints were a little sharper, though. At ISO 200, 11x14-inch images started to show a little chroma noise that became mostly negligible at 8x10. In an unusual twist, the chroma noise gets processed out at ISO 400, though overall detail is a little softer at 11x14 as a result, and is better at 8x10. ISO 800 images still look pretty good at 8x10. ISO 1,600 shots are surprisingly good at 5x7, though quite grainy; at 4x6 you only notice the grain if you get close. So a pretty good performance for the 8-megapixel Canon A720 IS.
Note: Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot A720 IS Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot A720 IS with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.