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Canon PowerShot A85 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
By
Shawn Barnett & Dave Etchells
Review Date
9/27/2004
User Level
Novice to Experienced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point-and-Shoot or Manual control
Picture Quality
Good, 4.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches
Availability
August, 2004
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$299

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot A85 is another 2004 update to Canon's wildly popular PowerShot A70 model from 2003. The major change between the A75 (the previous update) and Canon A85 is a higher resolution sensor, moving from 3.3 to 4.0. As with the PowerShot A75, there's a larger LCD (1.8 inches, up from 1.5 on the A70), more Special modes, and a faster, more efficient DIGIC processor. The PowerShot A85 also debuts at the same introductory price as its predecessor, the A75. Featuring a full 13 shooting modes, the Canon A85 offers not only manual and full-auto exposure control, but five preset capture modes, and six Scene modes to boot. The A85 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/2,000 second, and includes a Custom white balance setting. Best of all, the camera accommodates a wide range of users with its variable level of exposure control. Experienced shooters will appreciate the Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes, while novices will find the Auto, Program AE, and Scene modes useful. Plus, the PowerShot A85 has a 9-point AF system and the benefit of Canon optics with its 3x zoom lens. Advanced features continue with an orientation sensor, date imprint mode, manual focus, and the new Print/Share button that is appearing on all new Canon PowerShots. The A85 seems poised to enjoy the same popularity as the A70 did last year, though it will probably split its fame with the A75, A80, and A95.

 

Camera Overview

Similar Cameras
If you're looking at the Canon PowerShot A85, here are some similar models to consider:

Fuji FinePix E500
Kodak EasyShare DX7440
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1

Confused? Check our list of the
Best Digital Cameras!

With a compact body similar in design to previous PowerShot "A" models, the Canon PowerShot A85 offers a 4.0-megapixel CCD as its major upgrade, delivering high-resolution images suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches with good detail. (Lower resolutions are also available, including an email-friendly size, and a special Postcard mode that allows date stamp.) The A85's all-plastic, two-toned silver body is lightweight and compact, although just a little too large for the average shirt pocket. Still, the A85 should easily fit into larger coat pockets and purses, and comes with a wrist strap for more security. Like many Canon digicams, the A85 features a shutter-like lens cover and a retracting lens that keeps the camera front fairly smooth when the camera is powered off. Without a lens cap to keep track of, the A85 is quick on the draw (you just have to wait a couple of seconds for the lens to extend forward before you can shoot).

Equipped with a 5.4-16.2mm lens, the A85 offers a 3x optical zoom range equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. Widest aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.8 depending on the zoom setting, and can be manually or automatically adjusted up to f/8.0. The A85 uses Canon's Wide Area AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Auto Focus) system, which works in conjunction with iSAPS (Intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space) technology to judge focus based on an expanded nine-point area covering 60% of the frame's center. Whatever portion of the subject is closest to one of the AF points is what determines the overall focus. You can alternately choose to base focus on the center of the frame only. The A85 also offers a manual focus mode, displaying a numeric distance scale on the LCD display. An AF Assist light on the front panel helps the camera focus in dark shooting conditions, and can be deactivated if necessary. In addition to the optical zoom, the A85 also offers as much as 3.6x digital zoom, slightly increased from the A75's 3.2x digital zoom. However, I always remind readers that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality in direct proportion to the magnification achieved, because it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. The A85 has both a real-image optical viewfinder and a larger 1.8-inch LCD monitor for composing images. The LCD monitor's information display includes detailed exposure information, including shutter speed and aperture settings in the manual shooting modes.

The A85 provides a full range of exposure control, from full Manual to full Auto exposure modes, and more than a handful of preset scene modes as well. The first five exposure modes are accessed by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera. Canon divided the dial into three exposure types: Auto, Creative Zone, and Image Zone. Shooting in Auto mode puts the camera in charge of everything except the Flash and Macro modes. Exposure modes in the Creative Zone include Program AE (P), Shutter Speed-Priority AE (Tv), Aperture-Priority AE (Av), and Manual Exposure (M). Program AE lets the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed settings, but gives you control over all other exposure options. Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority modes allow you to set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best corresponding variable. Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure options.

Exposure modes in the Image Zone include Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter, Slow Shutter, Scene (SCN), Stitch Assist, and Movie. Portrait, Night Scene, and Landscape all make automatic camera adjustments to optimize settings for specific shooting conditions. The Portrait mode uses a large aperture setting to focus on the subject, while maintaining an out-of-focus background. Landscape mode slows the shutter speed and maximizes depth of field with a small aperture setting. Night Scene mode illuminates your subject with flash and uses a slow shutter speed to evenly expose the background. Fast Shutter mode uses a fast shutter speed to freeze action, while Slow Shutter mode uses a slower shutter speed to blur moving objects (such as waterfalls or fountains). The new Scene (SCN) mode allows access to Foliage, which enhances green and red; Snow, which helps bias exposure for bright snow; Beach, which does the same thing for sandy backgrounds; Fireworks, whose use needs no explanation; Underwater, which adjusts settings for use with the optional WP-DC30 Waterproof Case; and Indoor, which seeks to prevent camera shake and maintain colors when used under fluorescent and tungsten lighting. The Stitch-Assist mode is Canon's answer to panorama shooting, in which multiple, overlapping images can be captured horizontally, vertically, or in a clockwise grouping. Images are then "stitched" together on a computer using Canon's bundled PhotoStitch software or other image editing software. Movie mode allows you to capture up to three minutes of moving images and sound at approximately 15 frames per second, with available resolutions of 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels (640 x 480 is limited to 10fps due to the larger imager).

The White Balance setting adjusts color balance, with settings for Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Fluorescent H (for daylight fluorescent lighting). There's also a Custom setting to manually set color balance based on a white or gray card. Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure, from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. An ISO adjustment offers 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents, as well as an Auto setting. By default, the A85 uses an Evaluative metering mode, which links the metering area to the focus area (when AiAF is activated). Also available is a Spot Metering option, which bases the exposure on the center of the subject, and Center-Weighted, for a larger area in the center of the frame. The A85's flash operates in either Auto, Forced, Suppressed, or Slow Synchro (in Night Portrait only) modes, with an available Red-Eye Reduction setting through the Record menu.

A creative and fun Effects menu lets you play around with image color, offering Vivid and Neutral color settings, as well as Sepia and Black and White options. A Low Sharpening option softens the image, and is good for enthusiasts who want to manipulate images on the computer, applying sharpening in their imaging software. Continuous Shooting mode works like a motor drive on a 35mm camera, capturing a rapid burst of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down (or until the memory card runs out of space). Actual frame rates will vary depending on the image size and quality selected (Maximum according to Canon is 1.5 frames per second). The A85 also features a 10-second self-timer, which delays the shutter for about 10 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed, letting you run around and jump into the shot. (You can also set the delay interval to two seconds, as an anti-shake aid when you've propped the camera to take a photo in low light.) The A85 also features the My Camera menu, which lets you customize camera settings to your own preferences. For example, you can set the image that appears at startup, or assign a fun sound to button and self-timer functions.

The PowerShot A85 stores images on CompactFlash memory cards, and comes with a 32MB starter card. This is an improvement over the 16MB card included with the A70, but I still highly recommend purchasing a larger-capacity CompactFlash card right away, given the A85's maximum 2,272 x 1,704-pixel resolution. The camera uses four AA-sized batteries for power, either alkaline or NiMH type. Four alkaline batteries come with the camera and battery life is generally excellent, but I still strongly advise picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204W charger, my current favorite charger. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, and plugs straight into a DC-in jack on the back of the camera, but good-quality rechargeable batteries really eliminate the need for it. The A85 features a USB jack for quickly (570 KB/second) downloading images to a computer, and comes with two software CDs, one loaded with Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk version 16.1 and the other loaded with ArcSoft Camera Suite version 1.3 (compatible with Macintosh and Windows systems). Additionally, an AV Out jack and the included video cable lets you connect the camera to a television set. The A85 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatible, with a range of print settings available through the Playback menu. Plug the camera into a PictBridge-compatible printer and the new Print/Share button lights up with a bright blue glow. Just press it and the currently displayed picture begins to print.

Basic Features

  • 4.0-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as large as 2,272 x 1,704 pixels.
  • 1.8-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • Glass, 3x 5.4-16.2mm lens (equivalent to 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera).
  • 3.6x digital zoom.
  • Nine-point AiAF iSAPS autofocus and a manual focus mode.
  • AF Assist light for low-light focusing.
  • Full Automatic, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as five preset exposure modes and six Scene modes.
  • Manually adjustable aperture setting ranging from f/2.8 to f/8.0, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Shutter speed range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds.
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes.
  • CompactFlash memory storage.
  • Power supplied by four AA batteries or optional AC adapter.

Special Features

  • Movie mode (with sound).
  • Sound caption recording.
  • Stitch-Assist mode for panoramic shots.
  • Continuous Shooting and 10-second Self-Timer modes.
  • Creative Effects menu.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes.
  • ISO adjustment with four ISO equivalents and an Auto setting.
  • Low Sharpness setting.
  • Postcard mode.
  • Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • Works with optional accessory lenses for enhanced wide angle and telephoto.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

With a complete range of auto and manual exposure controls, the A85 is well-suited for novice users and experienced amateurs alike. The full automatic controls keep things simple for novices, while offering the opportunity to gradually step up to more control. Plus, the range of preset exposure modes and advanced autofocus ensures that less-experienced photographers will get good pictures in difficult shooting situations. The 4.0-megapixel CCD captures good quality images, quite suitable for printing as large as 8x10-inches with good detail, even with some cropping. The compact design should fit well into a larger coat pocket or purse, and the lens design protects it when closed, while keeping the camera body smooth and low-profile. In addition to the range of exposure controls, a menu of creative effects makes the A85 fun too. The A85 is unusual, in that it's marketed and priced as an "entry level" camera, but its features and capabilities extend far beyond that category. If you're looking for an inexpensive camera that you can grow with (and that shoots excellent photos), the A85 could be the camera for you.

 

Design

The A85's compact body has a solid feel, thanks to a combination of plastic body with a metallic sheen. Measuring 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches (101 x 64 x 32 millimeters), the A85 probably won't fit into your shirt pocket. It will, however, find its way into larger coat pockets, purses, and hip packs, good for travel. The A85 has a modest heft, with its 11.3-ounce (319-gram) weight, with batteries and CompactFlash card, but isn't at all uncomfortable to carry. The photo above right shows the A85 posed with a CompactFlash memory card in front of it to give an idea of its relative size: A comfortable handful even for people with small hands, yet not so tiny that it'd be awkward for users with larger hands to operate. The two-toned silver body is sleek and understated, yet sophisticated enough for any age group.

The A85's front panel features the telescoping 3x zoom lens, which comes out an additional 3/4-inch when fully extended. Also on the front panel are the optical viewfinder window, small microphone, flash, and a light emitter lamp that serves multiple purposes, including autofocus assist, red-eye reduction, and the self-timer countdown. On the lower right side of the lens (as viewed from the rear) is a small button that releases the ring around the lens barrel. Removing the ring allows you to attach a lens adapter for extended telephoto, wide angle, or macro capabilities. There's also a large hand grip on the front panel, created by the large battery compartment.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is the CompactFlash card slot, covered by a hinged, plastic door. The door slides toward the back panel before opening outward. At the top of the right side is the plastic eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

On the opposite side of the camera is the connector compartment, covered by a flexible, rubbery-plastic flap that snaps in and out of place. When opened, the flap remains connected to the camera body, and folds out of the way to accommodate cables. Inside the compartment are the USB and A/V Out jacks.

The A85's top panel features a Mode dial, with 13 shooting positions divided into three basic categories: Auto Exposure, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The Shutter button is located forward and to the right of the Mode dial, with a Zoom toggle surrounding it. Behind the Shutter button and Zoom lever is the camera's speaker. A Power button and light is on the other side of the Mode dial.

The rest of the exposure controls are located on the camera's back panel, along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. The look of quality is improved overall by the larger 1.8 inch LCD and new 5-way navigation pad. The eye-level optical viewfinder features two LED lamps that report camera status. A Mode switch puts the camera into Playback or Record modes, and is adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor. Below the Mode switch is 5-way navigation pad; 5-way because the Set button is in the middle of the four-way disk. The top button also controls flash mode, while the bottom button accesses Macro and Manual Focus modes. Just left of the 5-way navigator are the Menu and Function buttons. Below the LCD display are the Print/Share and Display buttons. When connected to a PictBridge printer, the Print/Share button lights up with a bright blue LED, leaving no question about which button to press next to print your pictures.

The A85's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the battery compartment and a threaded plastic tripod mount at about center. Because the battery door and tripod mount are so close to one another, it would be difficult to make quick battery changes while working with a tripod, something I always look at, given the amount of test shooting I do in the studio. On the other hand, Canon's AC adapter plugs into the back of the camera, so for studio use, there's a convenient way to get power to the camera while it's on a tripod. (In truth though, few purchasers of the A85 are likely to be concerned about studio usage.)

 

Camera Operation

The A85's user interface is quite efficient. Most camera functions are controlled externally, and a few of the external control buttons serve multiple functions. When you do need to enter the LCD menu system, navigation is straightforward with only two pages of options. That said, the majority of external controls do require the LCD display to be active to confirm whether they are on or off. Regardless, the A85's external controls cut down on the amount of time spent searching menu screens, and I particularly like the "Function" menu which has become standard on Canon digicam models starting in the 2003 model year. Combined with the instruction manual, the A85's user interface shouldn't take more than an hour to get comfortable with.

Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the A85's LCD reports various exposure settings, including camera modes, the resolution and quality settings, number of available images, etc. Half-pressing the Shutter button reports the aperture and shutter speed settings, in all modes except Manual. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available display modes, including the image with information, no display at all, and the image only.

Playback Mode LCD Display: In Playback mode, the LCD reports the image series number, resolution and quality setting, file name, and the date and time of image capture. Pressing the Display button once pulls up an enhanced information display, with a histogram for checking the exposure. A third press cancels the information overlay entirely. Pressing the zoom lever toward the wide-angle end zooms out to a thumbnail view of images stored on the card. Pressing it in the wide-angle direction again brings up a "jump" bar at the bottom of the screen, and the camera lets you jump through stored images nine at a time. Pressing the zoom control in the telephoto direction zooms in as much as 10x on the subject, handy for checking image details and focus.



External Controls


Shutter Button
: Resting in the center of the Zoom lever, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom while in Record mode.

In Playback mode, the wide side displays a nine-image index display of all images on the memory card, and accesses a "Jump" function that lets you scroll through index display screens quickly. Alternatively, the telephoto position enlarges the currently displayed image as much as 10x, so that you can check on fine details.


Mode Dial
: Also on the camera's top panel, this large, notched dial is used to select the camera's shooting modes. Canon divides these functions into three categories: Auto, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The options are as follows:

  • Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for Flash and Macro modes, image size and quality settings.
  • Creative Zone
    • Program AE (P): Places the camera in control of shutter speed and lens aperture, while you maintain control over everything else (i.e., white balance, ISO, metering, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
    • Shutter-Speed Priority AE (Tv): Allows you to control the shutter speed settings from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, while the camera controls the aperture. All other exposure settings are available.
    • Aperture Priority AE (Av): Allows you to set the lens aperture from f/2.8 to f/8.0, while the camera controls the shutter speed. The maximum aperture depends on the zoom setting, ranging from f/2.8 at the wide angle end to f/4.8 at the telephoto position. In this mode, you maintain control over all other exposure variables.
    • Manual (M): Provides complete control over all exposure settings, including shutter speed and lens aperture.
  • Image Zone
    • Portrait: Uses a large aperture setting to blur the background while keeping the primary subject in sharp focus.
    • Landscape: Employs a small aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in focus. (May use a slower shutter speed, so a tripod is recommended.)
    • Night Scene: Uses slower shutter speeds and flash to even out nighttime exposures. The slow shutter speed allows more ambient light to be recorded in the low-light areas, while the flash freezes the subject. The Red-Eye Reduction mode can be used with this exposure mode to eliminate Red-Eye in night portraits.
    • Fast Shutter: Uses fast shutter speeds to stop action and maintain sharp focus on moving subjects.
    • Slow Shutter: Uses slow shutter speeds to blur fast-moving subjects.

    • Special Scene: Choose from Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, and Indoor modes.
    • Stitch-Assist: Allows you to record a series of images, either horizontally, or vertically, to be "stitched" together into one panorama on a computer.
    • Movie: Records as long as three minutes of moving images with sound, at approximately 15 frames per second (except in 640 x 480 mode, which is only 10fps).


Power Button
: To the left of the Mode dial, this button turns the camera on or off.


Mode Switch
: Adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor on the rear panel, this switch selects between Record and Playback modes.


Five-Button Function Pad
: These five buttons are arranged in a disk pattern on the rear panel, right of the LCD monitor. They serve as the left, right, up, and down arrow keys to navigate through settings menus, and the center button is the Set button, better-placed in our opinion. In Record mode, the left and right buttons adjust available exposure settings, as well as manual focus, when enabled. The top button controls flash mode, while the bottom button accesses Macro and Manual Focus modes.

In Playback mode, the left and right buttons scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrows pan within the view.

Set Button: Now part of the 5-way navigator right of the LCD monitor, this button confirms menu selections. It also switches between available exposure adjustments in Manual mode.

Print/Share button: Glows blue when enabled for printing to a PictBridge printer or Windows computer for uploading images.


Function / Erase Button
: On the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button displays the following Function menu while in Record mode:

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. Not available in Manual mode, since the user controls the exposure variables directly there.
  • Flash Output: (Manual mode only, takes the place of the Exposure Compensation option): Adjusts the overall flash intensity from Low to Full, in Manual mode only. In Manual mode, the flash fires only a single pulse, handy when you want to use the A85 with conventional "slave" triggers for external flash units.
  • White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual setting).
  • Drive Mode: Accesses Continuous Shooting and the two Self-Timer modes (a 2 or 10 second delay).
  • ISO Speed: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto (except in Manual), or to 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Photo Effect: Enables Vivid Color, Neutral Color, Low Sharpening, Sepia, or Black-and-White picture effects.
  • Light Metering System: Sets the metering mode to Evaluative, Center-Weighted, or Spot.
  • Resolution: Specifies the image resolution and quality settings. Still image resolutions are 2,272 x 1,704; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. The new Postcard mode defaults to 1,600 x 1,200 for fine 4x6 printing, with the option of date printing on the photo. Quality options (activated by pressing the Set button) are Superfine, Fine, and Normal. Movie resolutions are 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 pixels.

In Playback mode, this button displays the single-image erase menu.


Display Button
: Below the LCD, this button controls the information and image display modes in Record and Playback modes. Playback includes a histogram view.


Menu Button
: Right of the LCD and above the Function button, this button calls up the settings menu in Record and Playback modes. It also dismisses the menu screen and backs out of menu selections.


Battery Compartment Latch
: Nestled in the center of the battery compartment door on the bottom of the camera, this sliding switch unlocks the door, so that it can slide forward and open.


Lens Ring Release Button
: Tucked under the lens on the camera's front panel, this button releases the lens ring. Once unlocked, the lens ring can then be turned and removed to accommodate accessory lens kits.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: Marked on the Mode switch with the red camera icon, this mode sets up the camera for capturing still and moving images. The following exposure modes are available:

  • Manual (M): Provides complete control over all exposure settings, including shutter speed and lens aperture.
  • Shutter-Speed Priority AE (Tv): Allows you to control the shutter speed settings from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, while the camera controls the aperture. All other exposure settings are available.
  • Aperture Priority AE (Av): Allows you to set the lens aperture from f/2.8 to f/8.0 (depending on the zoom setting), while the camera controls the shutter speed. In this mode, you maintain control over all other exposure variables.
  • Program AE (P): Places the camera in control of shutter speed and lens aperture, while you maintain control over everything else (i.e., white balance, ISO, metering, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
  • Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for Flash and Macro modes, and image size and quality settings.
  • Portrait: Uses a large aperture setting to blur the background and keep the primary subject in sharp focus.
  • Landscape: Employs a small aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in focus.
  • Night Scene: Uses slower shutter speeds and flash to even out nighttime exposures. The slow shutter speed allows more ambient light to be recorded in the low-light areas, while the flash fully exposes the subject.
  • Fast Shutter: Uses fast shutter speeds to stop action and maintain sharp focus on moving subjects.
  • Slow Shutter: Uses slow shutter speeds to blur fast-moving subjects.

  • Special Scene: Choose from Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, and Indoor modes.
  • Stitch-Assist: Allows you to record a series of images, either horizontally, vertically, or in a clockwise, 360-degree pattern, to be "stitched" together into one large image or panorama on a computer.
  • Movie: Records as long as three minutes of moving images with sound, at approximately 15 frames per second (640 x 480 mode is only 10fps).

Record Menu: Pressing the Menu button in Record mode pulls up the following options (not all options are available in all modes):

  • AiAF: Turns the AiAF system on or off. If on, the camera judges focus based on the subject's proximity to five focus areas in the center of the image. If off, the camera bases focus on the very center of the frame.
  • Red-Eye Reduction: Turns the Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash on or off, which works with all flash modes.
  • AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
  • Digital Zoom: Turns the 3.6x digital zoom on or off.
  • Review: Turns the instant image review function on or off, with available image display times from two to 10 seconds.
  • Date Stamp: Turns on and switches between Date and Date/Time stamp, only available in Postcard mode.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images and movies on the memory card, as well as erase them, protect them, or tag them for printing and transfer. The traditional green Playback symbol denotes this mode on the Mode switch. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options: (Note: Secondary screens are from the A75, but the only differences are in the color scheme.)

  • Protect: Marks the current image for write-protection, or removes write-protection. Protected images cannot be deleted or manipulated, except through card formatting, which erases all files.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 degrees clockwise.
  • Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany a captured image.
  • Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones.
  • Auto Play: Automatically plays all captured images in a slide show.
  • Print Order: Determines how many copies of the current image will be printed, with options for creating an index print, imprinting the date and time, and imprinting the file number. (secondary screen)
  • Transfer Order: Marks images to be transferred via email.

Setup Menu: This menu is available in all exposure modes, simply by pressing the Menu button and selecting the Setup tab.

  • Mute: Turns the camera's beep sounds on and off.
  • Volume: Individually sets Startup, Operation, Self Timer, Shutter, and Playback volumes. (secondary screen)
  • Power Saving: Toggles the camera's automatic shutoff function, which turns off the camera after a length of inactivity. Also sets display shutdown time between 10 seconds and 3 minutes. (secondary screen)
  • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock. (secondary screen)
  • Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection). (secondary screen)
  • File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new CompactFlash card. If disabled, the camera continues numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
  • Auto Rotate: Toggles Auto Rotate feature on and off.
  • Distance Units: Sets the manual focus indicator to Meters/Centimeters or Feet/Inches.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of 12 choices. English is the default setting. (secondary screen)
  • Video System: Designates the camera's video-out signal as NTSC or PAL.

My Camera Menu: This is the third menu tab on the menu screen, and appears in every mode.

  • Theme: Selects a common theme for each My Camera menu settings item. Four options are available, the first one being Off. When a theme is selected, all of the following settings automatically adjust to that theme.
  • Startup Image: Sets the startup image when you turn on the camera to: Black screen, Canon logo, Canon logo w / sunset, and nature scene. You can also apply your own image using the Canon software.
  • Startup Sound: Sets the startup sound when you turn on the camera to: No sound, Musical tone (1), Musical tone (2), or Birds chirping. You can also apply your own sounds using the Canon software.
  • Operation Sound: Sets the sound when any control or switch is use (except the Shutter button). Options include Beep, Loud beep, Boing, and Chirp.
  • Self-Timer Sound: Sets the sound that signals you when the shutter release is two seconds away. Options include Fast beeps (1), Fast beeps (2), Telephone ring, and Howling.
  • Shutter Sound: Sets the shutter sound that you hear when you depress the Shutter button (there is no shutter sound in Movie mode). Options include Beep, Shutter sound, Boing, and Bark.

 

In the Box

The PowerShot A85 arrives with the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Four AA-type alkaline batteries.
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • 32MB CompactFlash card.
  • Two software CDs.
  • Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit.

 

Recommended Accessories


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. I 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 surprising number 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 digicam 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...

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Sample Pictures
See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

For a set of more pictorial sample photos from the Canon PowerShot A85, visit our Canon A85 photo gallery.

"Sunlit"
Indoor
Indoor Flash

House
Musicians
Macro

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


Test Results
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Canon PowerShot A85's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the A85's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the A85 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!

  • Color: Very pleasing color. Somewhat high saturation, some hue errors, but apparently in a way that results in very appealing images. Like many consumer digicams, the A85's color is fairly bright-looking. - But that's because most consumers like bright, snappy-looking photos. The A85's color balance was generally quite accurate, and its Incandescent and Manual white balance options both did a very good job with the difficult household incandescent lighting of my "Indoor Portrait" shot. The one oddity I found in its color rendition was obvious only in the analytical results from Imatest. - The camera tends to shift cyan colors towards the blue range somewhat. As noted, I wasn't really aware of this visually, other than to note that the A85 tends to render shades of off-blue a little more "richly" than in real life. I suspect that the main impact of this tendency would be more appealing sky colors.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure. Somewhat high contrast, but good ability to hold onto highlight detail. The A85's exposure system was generally pretty accurate, requiring the same or slightly less exposure compensation on challenging shots than most cameras I test do. Like most consumer digicams, its tone curve is a little contrasty, but despite this, the A85 does a much better than average job of holding on to detail in strong highlights. A very good performance overall..

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,150 lines of "strong detail." The A85 performed pretty well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,100 lines vertically, 1,200 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,500 lines. Using its "MTF 50" criteria, Imatest reported average resolution of 943 line widths/picture height, or 1113 LW/PH when normalized to a standard 1-pixel sharpening. Overall, this is just a little off from the performance of the best 4-megapixel cameras, but is still fairly good.

  • Image Noise: Slightly higher than average image noise for its 4-megapixel class, but very little loss of subtle detail to anti-noise processing. The A85 has a tendency to produced slightly high image noise on average, with some noise visible even at ISO 50. The grain pattern is fine and tight though, which makes it less objectionable than it would be otherwise. I don't personally care for the results at ISO 400, but visually, they look better than those of most consumer cameras at that level (despite the fact that the numeric noise figures are a fair bit higher than average), and I suspect that a lot of people would find them acceptable for limited usage.

  • Closeups: A small macro area with excellent detail, but the flash has trouble up close. The A85 performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.53 x 1.90 inches (64 x 48 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was excellent in the brooch, coins, and dollar bill. Details were very sharp throughout most of the frame, though all four corners were soft. (Softness in the corners of the frame is unfortunately a very common failing among consumer digicams in Macro mode.) Color and exposure looked good as well. The A85's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and overexposed the shot. - Plan on using external lighting for your closest shots with the A85.

  • Night Shots: Good low-light performance, with relatively low image noise. Autofocus works down to a bit darker than one foot-candle. (Slightly darker than typical city street lighting at night.) The A85 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test at the 200 and 400 ISO settings. At ISO 100, images were bright as low as 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux), and at ISO 50, images were bright as low as 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux). Color was good with the Auto white balance, though just slightly pink at the lower light levels. The A85 handled image noise well in the low light tests, producing low noise levels at the 50 and 100 ISO settings, and only a moderate level at ISO 200. Even at ISO 400, noise was high, but not overpowering, at least not compared to what I'm accustomed to seeing from consumer digicams at that level. While the A85 could successfully shoot at very low light levels though, its autofocus system worked only down to about 0.7 foot-candles, just a little darker than typical city night scenes.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy from the LCD monitor, but a very tight optical viewfinder. The A85's optical viewfinder was very tight, showing only about 77 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, at about 100 percent. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the A85's LCD monitor is just about perfect in this respect, but the camera really needs a more accurate optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Average barrel distortion, higher than average pincushion, very low chromatic aberration and good sharpness across the frame. Optical distortion on the A85 was about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as I measured 0.6 percent pincushion distortion there. Chromatic aberration was quite low, showing three or four pixels of very light coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The A85's images also tended to show good sharpness in the corners, a relative rarity with typical digicam optics. Overall, a good quality lens.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Shutter lag and cycle times on the fast side of average. Overall, the A85 is a little faster than average in most aspects of its performance. Startup and shutdown are a bit quicker than most digicams with telescoping lenses manage, shutter lag is just on the fast side of average in full-autofocus mode, and very fast when the camera is "prefocused" by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button prior to the shot itself. Cycle times are good if not astounding, and the camera's four-shot buffer memory should be plenty for most consumers. All in all, not blazing speed, but a solid performer all the same.

  • Battery Life: Excellent battery life. With worst-case runtime of 229 minutes in capture mode with the rear panel LCD illuminated (based on "standard" 1600 mAh NiMH cells), and more than 16 hours with the LCD turned off, the A85's battery life is much better than average. I still recommend buying at least two sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger, but the A85 does a lot better than most cameras on the market in the battery-life department. (See my Battery Shootout page for test results from a variety of batteries, and read my review of the Maha C-204W to see why it's my new favorite AA-cell charger.)

Conclusion

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As I mentioned at the outset, Canon's PowerShot A70 topped the charts in Canon's sales last year, outstripping all other camera models. - And for good reason: The A70 of
fered a rich set of features and excellent image quality at an attractive price. This year, the PowerShot A85 appears poised to follow in the A70's footsteps. Relative to last year's model, the A85 offers a better, nine-point autofocus system, a bigger monitor, a slightly more accurate optical viewfinder, and faster overall performance. The A85's image sharpness is just a tad off that of the best 4-megapixel cameras on the market, but is more than good enough to make sharp-looking 8x10 prints. Its color is very appealing, even though its handling of blues appears to be tweaked a little from what would be absolutely accurate - The nature of the blue tweak appears to be such that the A85 will render better-looking sky colors, something most users would probably prefer to an absolutely faithful portrayal. Overall, Canon has taken an almost perfect combination of features, image quality and price, included a number of key features from its S-series digicams delivered the combination at a very attractive price, making a premier camera for the mid-level consumer market that's also a bargain. If you're looking for a great "all around" digicam, the A85 certainly deserves your serious consideration. - It's an easy "Dave's Pick," as one of the better models on the market.

 

Reader Comments!
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