Canon PowerShot A80

There are many great digicams we can recommend to readers of Digital Camera Magazine. It used to be that finding a truly excellent camera for less than $400 was pretty unlikely. Either the image quality, lens, or mechanism was compromised in such a way that made almost every offering unacceptable, so we steered people toward US$500-600 digicams for cameras of true quality. Over the past two years Canon has raised the bar across their product line, from the cheapest to the most expensive, and they now have a leader in every category. Potential buyers can walk into any camera or electronics store and be sure that if they buy a digicam with that bold Canon logo they will capture images they can be proud of. Last year their most popular digicam was the A70, the high end of their low-range PowerShot line.

Now thereās the A80, raising the bar once again. Perhaps the best summary would be to call it the G3 lite. The G3 used to be the pinnacle of the high-end PowerShot line, since replaced by the G5 and PowerShot Pro1; but it was and still is a capable digital camera with a 4 megapixel sensor, a swing out LCD screen, and the option of telephoto and wide angle accessory lenses. Its spirit is reborn in the A80, but without the extra bulk, coming in a package that is small enough to carry along, yet big enough to hold onto for stable shots.

The grip is just right for the A80ās weight and size, and your finger rests right on the shutter button. Surrounding the shutter button is the zoom ring, which you pull right for tele and push left for wide. Itās natural for the index finger to want to be in control, and the two main functions for the camera are right there; all the thumb has to to is rest on the eight bumps on the back and hold on. Once the image is captured, the thumb can still feel important, because the back is tailor made for its style of dexterity. A plastic switch moves the user between capture and playback modes. This is the only weak area of the A80, because it doesnāt slide that easily and feels a bit cheap. Be gentle with it, and it should be just fine. The nav disk is sized just for the thumb, and is a great way to shuffle around in your pictures. In record mode it can be used to select flash modes and Manual Focus mode.

Four other buttons reside on the back, making for just enough to execute the rest of Canonās smart interface. Function brings up a quick onscreen menu for customizing your settings when in Capture mode. With the first push you can set exposure compensation with the nav buttons and get back to shooting with a press on the shutter; if itās not right, youāre brought right back to the Function menu where you can try again. Scrolling down the semi-transparent menu, you can set your White Balance, Drive mode, ISO, Effects, Metering mode, and resolution. This quick and easy menu keeps you looking at your scene and ready to shoot while you try to optimize settings, without having to dive into a complicated menu. Thankfully, Canon menus are anything but complicated. Just press the menu button to bring up a list where English words accompany each icon, making everything clear. A simple press on the Set button makes it so, and a press on either the menu or shutter button takes you right back to capture mode.

The flip-out screen comes out 180 degrees and rotates 270 degrees. That means it can be viewed easily with the camera over your head, for great over-the-crowd shots, or faced completely forward so that you can include yourself in carefully composed cheese shots with your best friend. For some reason the onscreen icons that tell you the capture mode, flash settings, and remaining exposures disappears when the screen is flipped completely upside down to face forward÷perhaps so that the self-timer-using photographer can make sure theyāre in the shot after they jump over the coffee table to get there in the allotted 10 seconds.

The screen can also be flipped over and swung shut to protect the screen when on a long trip, or if you want to work exclusively with the optical viewfinder. I would like to see a stronger CF door on these cameras. I normally take cards out of the camera to copy images over, partially because I review so many that messing with all those cables gets to be a problem. But I recommend that the A80 user get a nice big card and leave it in. Plug the cable into your computer, duck-tape the business end to the desk and use Canonās fine upload software to get your images right into their Image Browser. Donāt mess with this door. The 32MB card that comes with the A80 is just enough to whet your appetite for a nice 256MB Type I Compact Flash card. So spend the extra money and shoot without fear.

Images captured by the A80ās 38-144mm equivalent lens and 4 megapixel sensor are beautiful. Its 9-point AiAF (Auto Intelligence Auto Focus) sensors analyze the scene and decide where to focus based on the objects in the frame, then in a fraction of a second youāre told which areas will be in focus by the green squares that pop up onscreen. If you donāt agree with the results, another press on the shutter causes the system to re-analyze the scene and come up with a different result in another fraction of a second. The A80ās amazing speed allows you to get just what you want without having to wait.

Another cool feature on the A80 is the Manual Focus assist mode I mentioned earlier. Press the button once and you enter Macro mode, but press again and a magnified area appears in the center of the LCD viewfinder. You can then press the left and right sides of the nav disk and get reasonably close to sharp focus. Press the shutter button, and it doesnāt auto focus for you, but takes your word for it, removes the magnified area, sets the exposure and gives you the double beep telling you itās ready to capture. Pretty nice.

Model-Canon Powershot A80
List price-US$449
Sensor res-4 megapixels
Image dimensions-2272x1704 down to 640x480
Lens focal length-7.8-23.4 mm (38-114mm equiv.)
Shutter-1/2000 to 15 second
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Storage-CF Card (32MB included)
Focus-TTL contrast detection
LCD screen-1.5 inch rotating TFT
Flash modes-Auto, on, off, red-eye
Battery-4 AA alkaline/NiMH/Li
Weight-8.8 ounces w/o batteries
Dimensions-4.1 x 2.6 x 1.4 inches
Included-Software, cables, strap, card

The A80 has the full range of features that make Canon cameras so friendly, including the mode select dial which gives quick access to movie mode, stitch assist, slow shutter, night shot, sports, portrait, and landscape modes. You also get Green Zone (Full Auto), Program, Shutter and Aperture Priority, Full Manual and two custom modes. The ability to add lenses makes this a great all-around camera for the one wanting to explore digital photography in depth. Speaking of depth, you can get a Canon underwater housing for the A80 at a low price and explore under and above and all around the water.

Iāve read some complaints about battery life, but Iāve spent a few weeks shooting lightly with the included set of Alkaline AAs, and theyāre still fine. I recommend buying two good sets of NiMH batteries and a charger; and if you go through those, you can get AAs at any store around the world and keep on shooting.

For those wanting a great digital camera for a little money, get the A70 or A75. But if you want a lot more, the A80 is ready and able to help you capture your world from more angles and at a higher resolution for just a little more money. It may be Canonās most complete consumer digicam yet.

÷Shawn Barnett



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