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Canon Powershot A610 Review

by Bob Atkins, 2005


 

The Canon Powershot A610 is the successor to the popular A95, which was itself the successor to the A80. The "A" in these names refers to the fact that they use AA batteries rather than proprietary Li-ion cells such as are found in many other Canon digicams. This means batteries are always easy to find (though you'll probably want to buy a set of rechargeable NiMH cells). The A610 now uses an SD memory card rather than the CF card used by the A80 and A95. Most small digicams seem to be making this switch. The other major changes from the A95 are that the lens is now a 4x zoom (35-140) rather than a 3x (38-114), the LCD has increased from 1.8" to 2" and operation has been speededup by using a Digic II chip (the A95 has the original Digic chip)

Part I - Specifications

What's in the Box

  • The camera - Canon Powershot A610
  • A 16MB SD memory card
  • 4 x AA alkaline batteries
  • A CD of software applications
  • Manuals and guides in multiple languages (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish)
  • A wrist strap
  • A USB cable
  • An audio/video cable

The box does not include any type of camera case or any rechargeable batteries or chargers.

Software

The following software is included on the supplied "Solutions" CD (Ver. 26.0)

For Macintosh

  • ImageBrowser 5.5
  • Photostitch 3.1
  • Arcsoft PhotoStudio 4.3

For Windows

  • Zoombrowser EX 5.5
  • PhotoRecord 2.2
  • PhotoStitch 3.1
  • Camera TWAIN driver 6.6
  • Camera WIA Driver 6.4
  • Arcsoft PhotoStudio 5.5
  • Apple QuickTime

Lens

The Powershot A610 has a 7.3-29.2mm f2.8-4.1 4x zoom lens, which gives a similar field of view to a 35-140 zoom on a full frame 35mm camera (not exactly the same since 35mm has a 3:2 aspect ratio and the A610 has a 4:3 aspect ratio). There's also a "digital zoom" feature available which can magnify the center portion of the image up to 4x, giving a combined optical/digital zoom range of 16x. Digital zoom is useful if you want to make prints directly from the camera, but if you use a PC you might as well crop and upsize in your image processing software. Zoom isn't continuous as is typical for digicams. There seem to be 9 zoom positions between the 35 and 140mm settings corresponding to  35, 41, 46, 52, 60, 71, 83, 104 and 140mm

lens.jpg (41886 bytes)
Lens extended to the telephoto setting

The lens extends about 1cm going from the wide to telephoto setting. When the camera is turned off, the lens retracts fully into the body and a mechanical shutter closes in front of it. There is no lens cap. The ring around the lens can be removed and replaced by a threaded adpator which allows the use of screw in filters and the Canon wideangle and telephoto conversion lenses

Size and Weight

At 4.13" x 2.6" x 1.93" (104.8 x 66.0 x 49.1mm) and about 8oz in weight, the A610 will fit in a jacket pocket without much trouble. It's too big to fit in a shirt or pants pocked without quite a strugle and an unsightly bulge, so although it's "pocketable" it needs a decent sized pocket! It's large enough and well shaped enough (with the built in "grip") to enable one handed operation - as long as you're right handed!

Shutter Speeds and Apertures

Canon specify shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2500s. However it appears that shutter speeds longer than 1s are only available in certain modes. I could access them in full manual mode and in Shutter Priority mode, but in Aperture Priority and auto modes, 1 second was the longest exposure the camera seemed capable of. I couldn't find this documented in the manual, but it's possible I missed it. According to the manual, at wide apertures the fastest settable shutter speeds drop. At f2.8-3.2 with the lens at it's widest setting the fastest shutter speed is 1/1250, at f3.5-4 it's 1/1600 and at f4.5 it's 1/2000. At the full telephoto position at f4.1-4.5 it's 1/1250 and from f5-6.3 it's 1/1600. I have no idea why the full range of shutter speeds isn't available in all modes and at all apertures. If I'm missing something and there's a secret spell you have to say to access long shutter speeds in Av mode, please let me know and I'll revise my comments here!

Lens aperture can vary from f2.8 to f8 at the widest setting, though the manual comments that in full "auto" mode an aperture of f11 "may be possible under some shooting conditions". At full telephoto, apertures can range from f4.1 to f8, though again the manual comments that an aperture of f16  "may be possible under some shooting conditions". The shooting conditions where these small apertures are used isn't described at all. I'd have to guess maybe in very bright light if you set the ISO to 400?

So although technically there is a shutter speed range from 15s to 1/2500s and an aperture range from f2.8 to f16, not all shutter speeds and not all aperture are accessible in all modes and all zoom settings. This can be a little confusing until you read the manual - and it's not crystal clear even when you have! You can pretty much depend on being able to shoot at speeds from 1s to 1/1250s and at apertures of wide open down to f8 in all modes though.

Shooting modes include one-shot, continuous shooting, a fixed 10 or 2 secind self timer and a self timer mode that you can set anywhere from 1 to 30 seconds.

Viewfinder - Optical and LCD

There is an optical viewfinder, which zooms to follow the lens zoom. Optical quality is OK (not great) and there's no diopter adjustment. It's coverage is maybe 80% of the actual image. Think of it as a simple approximate framing/aiming device. The rear LCD shows a 100% view of the captured image and so is much better for accurate framing. If you want to minimize power consumption you can turn the LCD off and just use the optical viewfinder. You can also use the optical viewfinder if you find it hard to see the LCD in direct bright sunlight.

lcd1.jpg (40429 bytes)

The LCD twists and swivels. It can be folded "face-in" to the camera for storage and protection, or it can be folded "face-out" for use. It can be swung out and faced forwards so you can take a self portrait and see yourself on the LCD. It can be swung out and faced down, so you can shoot with the camera over your head, or it can be swung out and faced up so you can shoot from ground level. Very versatile, very useful. There is an option to display a grid on the LCD screen to help with composition.

Focus

I have no real way of quantifying AF performance and accuracy except to say I had no problems with it. Even at full zoom in normal indoor room light, AF was fast and positive with no hunting. As an audible clue, the camera beeps twice when it gets AF lock and   the AF zone lights up in green, but if AF lock fail sit beeps once an the AF zone lights up in red.

You can select auto 9 zone "smart" AF, where the camera choses one of more zones for focus, or you can select the center zone. A neat twist is a 3rd mode where you can move a fixed AF zone to wherever you want it on the screen (as long as it's in the mid part of the screen which the multiple AF zones cover).

ISO settings

The A610 can be set to "auto ISO" or manually to ISO 50, 100, 200 and 400. Comparing shutter speed and aperture readings between an EOS 20D at ISO settings from 50 to 400, the ISO settings agreed to within 1/3 stop. In "Auto" mode you can't see what ISO setting was used either in record or playback modes. Even the EXIF data stored with the image indicates ISO as "auto", so the only way to figure out what ISO was chosen is to shoot the same scene at a fixed ISO and compare the shutter speed and aperture values chosen. The "auto" ISO mode seems to hang on to slow settings for all it's worth, even when it causes the shutter speed to drop below that at which the camera can be handheld without risking image blur due to shake. If you want to force the camera to use the fastest shutter speed you should manually set ISO 400, though this can only be done in the P, Av, TV and M modes (in all "fully auto" scene and programmed modes ISO is also set to "auto")

Shooting Modes

Primary shooting modes are set using a control dial (just like on the EOS 20D), not via menus and buttons. The A610 has the usual Canon "creative" modes - Program AE (the camera picks shutter speed and aperture), Shutter Priority (you set shutter speed, the camera sets aperture), Aperture Priority (you set aperture and the camera sets shutter speed, and Manual (you set both shutter speed and aperture).

dial.jpg (45879 bytes)
This view shows the on/off switch, control dial, shutter release, zoom control
(ring around the shutter release) and the speaker for audio playback

The control dial also has setting for full auto (the camera chooses everything form shutter speed and aperture to ISO and metering mode), portrait, landscape and night scenes. There are also settings for movies, stitching panoramas and the "My colors" feature (see below). In addition there is a "scene" mode which allows you to select (via an LCD menu) optimal settings for Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Night Snapshot, and Kids and Pets.

Movie Modes

The Powershot A610 has multiple movie modes and resolutions. You can shoot at either 640x480 or 320x240 resolution and at either 30 or 15 frames/sec. With a fast SD memory card you can shoot continuously until the card is full (1GB maximum).  At 30 fps you can record just over 8 minutes of 640X480 video on a 1GB card. There is also a high speed mode which will record at 60 frames per second at 320x240 resolution for a maximum of 60 seconds. Finally there is a "compact" mode which records at 160x120 resolution and 15 frames/second for a maximum of 3 minutes. Sound is recorded along with the video. The video files are stored in .avi format.

Panorama Mode

In panorma mode you can take multiple shots and later stitch them together using the supplied Photo Stitch software. In this mode part of the previous shot is displayed on the LCD so you can adjust each shot for the correct amount and alignment of overlap with the previous image.

Color Effects

The A610 has user selectable "color effect" modes which include "Vivid" (higher contrast and saturation), "Neutral" (lower contrast and saturation), "Low Sharpening", "Sepia" and "Black and White". All of these can, of course also be achieved post exposure in an image editor, but again, if you intend to print directly from the camera then they may be useful.

"My Color" mode

The Powershot A610 has a number of built-in "special effects" or color modification modes. These include "Positive Film", which is meant to emulate the color and saturation of slide film, "Lighter Skin Tones", "Darker Skin Tones" and "Vivid Blue, Red or Green", which emphasize blue, red and green tones respectively.

There are also a set of less natural modes! In "Color Accent" you can select one color to be kept while all other colors are converted to B&W. In "Color Swap" you can change one color into another, and in "Custom Color" you can set the balance between red, blue, green and skin tones.

color_effects.jpg (45164 bytes)

Power

The Powershot A610 uses AA batteries. A set of 4 alkaline batteries are supplied with the camera, but if you intend to use the camera a lot the most economical route is to buy a set of high capacity NiMH batteries and a charger. Not only will they be cheaper in the long run, but each set will power the camera longer. Canon estimate 350 shots with alkaline batteries and 500 shots with 2300 mAh NiMH batteries when the LCD screen is on and the flash is used 50% of the time. With the LCD off these numbers increase to approximately 1200 and 1500 shots respectively.

Playback

A slide-switch selects record or playback mode. In playback you can view either individual images or sets of 9. There's a zoom feature (which uses the same zoom control as that for the lens in record mode) which allows you to zoom in to check sharpness. The image alone can be displayed or data can be displayed along with an image including ISO setting, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, metering mode, white balance, time, data, file size and resolution. A histogram can also displayed.

playback.jpg (58419 bytes)

The same data can be displayed in record mode after a shot is taken so you can check the histogram for exposure right after shooting.

Printing

You can print directly from the camera to any Canon CP, SELPHY, PIXMA Photo Printers or any PictBridge compatible printer via camera's USB cable. The camera is also DPOF (Digital Print Order format) capable. DPOF is a format that allows the user to select which  images on the memory card are to be printed and how many prints of each image to make. The memory card can then be taken to a digital printing service or accessed through compatible desktop printers at home.

[ Part II - performance]

Canon Powershot A610 Specifications

Type Compact digital camera with built-in flash and 4x Optical/4x Digital/16x Combined Zoom
Image Sensor Type Type: 5.0 Megapixel, 1/1.8 inch type Charge Coupled Device (CCD)
Effective Pixels: Approx. 5.0 Megapixels
Total Pixels Total Pixels: Approx. 5.3 Megapixels
Pixels Number of Recording Pixels: Megapixels Still Image: 2,592 x 1,944 (Large), 2,048 x 1,536 (Medium 1), 1,600 x 1,200 (Medium 2), 640 x 480 (Small)Movie: 640 x 480/320 x 240 (30 fps/15 fps), 320 x 240 (1 min. at 60 fps), 160 x 120 (3 min. at 15 fps)
Recording System: Recording Format File Format: Design rule for camera file system, DPOF Version 1.1 (Digital Print Order Format)
Image Compression: Still Image: Exif 2.2 (JPEG) Movie: AVI (Image: Motion JPEG; Audio: WAVE (Monaural))
JPEG Compression Mode: Normal, Fine, Superfine
Recording Medium SD Secure Digital & MMC Multimedia Memory Cards. (16MB card supplied)
Lens Focal Length 7.3 - 29.2mm f/2.8-4.1 (35mm film equivalent: 35-140mm)
Lens Aperature Maximum Aperture f/2.8 (W) - f/4.1 (T)
Digital Zoom 4.0x
Optical Zoom 4.0x
Total Zoom 16.0x
White Balance Settings Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater)
Auto White Balance Yes
Personal White Balance Custom, Yes
LCD Monitor Type Low-temperature polycrystalline silicon TFT color LCD (vari-angle)
Screen Monitor size 2.0 inch
LCD Pixels: Approx. 115,000 pixels
Coverage LCD: 100%
Viewfinder: Type Real-image 4x optical zoom viewfinder
Autofocus Type TTL Autofocus (continuous/single)
AF Working Range Normal: 1.5 ft./45cm-infinityMacro: 0.4 in.-1.5 ft./1-45cm (WIDE), 9.8 in. - 1.5ft./25-45cm (except WIDE)
Exposure Control Metering System Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE, Manual.AE Lock is available
Metering Range Light Metering Method: Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot* Metering frame with Spot Mode fixed to center or linked to AF frame.
ISO Speed Range AUTO: ISO 50/100/200/400 equivalent
Creative Zone Modes Shooting Modes: Auto; Creative: P, Av, Tv, M, C; Image: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Special Scene (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets,Night Snapshot), My Colors, Stitch Assist, Movie
Photo Effects: Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black & White
Exposure Compensation +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments
Manual Manual Exposure
AE Lock Yes
Shutter Speeds Shutter Speed : 15-1/2000 sec.; Slow shutter operates with noise reduction when manually set at 1.3-15 sec
Self-timer Activates shutter after an approx. 2 sec. or approx 10 sec. delay, Custom timer
Remote Control N/A
Built-in Flash Type Operation Modes: Operation Modes: Auto, On/Off, Red-Eye Reduction On/Off, Slow Synchro
Recycling Time Approx. 10 sec. or less (battery voltage=6.0V)
Flash Coverage Normal: 1.5-13.8 ft./45cm - 4.2m (W), 1.5-9.8 ft./45cm - 3.0m (T) Macro: 0.8-1.5 ft./25-45cm (when sensitivity is set to ISO 100 equivalent)
Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2 stops in 1/3-stop increments
Continuous Shooting Speed Approx. 2.4 shots/sec.
Playback Image Display Format Playback Modes File: Still Image: Single, Magnification (approx. 2x-10x), Jump, Auto Rotate, Rotation, Histogram, Index (9 thumbnails), Sound Memos, Slide Show Movie: Normal Playback, Special Playback, Slow Motion, Editing
Image Protection and Erase Erase Modes: Still Image: Single image, All images Movie: Part of movie, All of movie
Compatible Printers Direct connection to Canon CP, SELPHY, PIXMA Photo Printers and PictBridge compatible printers via camera's USB cable.
Power Source: 1. 4 Size AA Alkaline batteries (supplied)
2. 4 Rechargeable size AA NiMH batteries
3. AC Adapter Kit (ACK600)
Battery Life Shooting Capacity: Still Image: approx. 350 shots (AA-size Alkaline Battery), approx. 500 shots (AA-size NiMH Battery)
Playback Time: Approx. 960 min. (AA-size Alkaline Battery), approx. 960 min. (AA-size NiMH Battery)*
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.13 x 2.60 x 1.93 in./104.8 x 66.0 x 49.1mm
Weight Approx. 8.29 oz./235g (camera body only)
Operating Temperature Range 32-104° F/0-40° C
Operating Humidity Range 10 - 90%
Notes SD memory card slot. (16MB SD card supplied)
Computer Interface: USB (mini-B/PTP) (cable supplied)
Video Out: NTSC or PAL (cable supplied)
Audio Out: Monaural (cable supplied)

[ Part II - performance]

© 2005 Bob Atkins (www.bobatkins.com)