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Canon Powershot A80 Digital Camera Review

by Bob Atkins, 2003

Canon have a wide range of "Powershot" digital cameras. In Canonspeak, "Powershot" refers to everything except their digital SLRs. In fact there are so many of them that it's difficult to keep track and difficult for a newcomer to place the A80 in the pack!! Broadly they fall into 5 main groups:

  • The "G" series are the high end models, with a faster lens, a hotshoe for flash, full manual control and RAW format capability
  • The "Sxx" series (e.g. S45, S50) have slower lenses, no hotshoe but still retain a lot of manual control options and a RAW image format
  • The "A" series. The A80 is pretty similar to the "S" series in terms of features, but the A70/A60 are less advanced. They all use AA cells rather than a Li-ion battery and none have a RAW file mode.
  • The "Sxxx" series (e.g. S400) are small. While there is some manual control, it's limited.
  • The "SD" series are very small. In fact they use SD memory cards since CF cards (used in all other models) would be too large to fit in them! They have quite limited manual control.

This review is of the new Powershot A80 model. The A70 was widely regarded as one of the best "point and shoot" models on the market, and the A80 is a significant upgrade of the A70 with many  new features, such as a larger area sensor, 4MP rather than 3MP, a swing out, tilt and swivel LCD screen and custom shooting modes. In fact the specifications of the new A80 probably put it closer to the 4MP S45 than the A70.

Canon A80 Specifications

A full list of camera specifications for the can be found on the A80 Powershot Specifications page. However a brief list of the major features is: Canon Powershot A80 Review - rear view

  • 4MP sensor giving a 2272 x 1704 pixel images (3.87MP effective pixels)
  • 1/1.8" sensor (7.2 x 5.3 mm) - larger than sensors on A60 and A70 - same size as the "G" and "S45/50" series cameras
  • 35-114/2.8-4.9 zoom lens (35mm equivalent)
  • Shutter speeds 15s - 1/2000s (noise reduction at 1.3s and longer)
  • Exposure compensation +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments
  • Auto, preset or custom white balance
  • ISO 50/100/200/400
  • Evaluative/Center-weighted/Spot metering
  • Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Program AE and PIC modes with two custom settings
  • Swing out, twist and swivel LCD screen
  • Video 320x240, 15fps, 180s maximum length
  • 2.4 frames/s for 5 frames (2272x1704 pixels, best quality JPEG)
  • Uses Compact Flash (CF) type I cards (microdrives are type II and not supported)
  • 4 x AA cell power - 1000 shots per charge for NiMH cells (with LCD off)
  • Digic Processor
  • PictBridge Compatible*

*PictBridge is a standard which allows digital cameras to connect directly to printers, regardless of the manufacturer of the camera or printer. The printer acts as a USB "host" and the camera acts as a USB "device". For more information on how PictBridge works visit this link: http://www.cipa.jp/english/pictbridge/

The Lens

The lens on the Canon A80 is a 7.8mm - 23.4mm zoom, which gives approximately the same field of view as a 38-114mm lens would on a full frame 35mm camera. At the wide end the maximum aperture is f2.8, dropping to f4.9 at the long end of the range. Though not as fast as some high end digital cameras, it's nevertheless much faster than you'd typically see on a 35mm film P&S, and fast enough that the camera performs pretty well in available light situations.

Image quality was good. Chromatic aberration was well controlled throughout the zoom range. Below is an image shot wide open at full telephoto zoom, with a section from near the corner of the image shown as a 100% crop. As you can see, there's very little evidence of chromatic aberration. It's there if you look closely enough at light/dark transitions at the edges of the frame, but you can say that about almost every camera and lens on the market.

Canon Powershot A80 Review - lens1

The dreaded "blue fringing", which is seen on just about all cameras and is probably due to a combination of factors including sensor blooming, seems well controlled. Under adverse conditions (dark lines on a white, overexposed, background) you can see evidence of "blue fringing", but it didn't seem excessive. It's frequently not   noticeable in normal shots, but in "torture tests" it can be seen.

Though it's not fair, here's a comparison of a 4MP image from the A80 and a 6.3 MP image from the EOS 10D using a 28-135 IS lens. These are crops from 400% blowups from the center of each image so you can see the individual pixels. There is surprisingly little difference!

Canon Powershot A80 Review

Exposure Modes

There are 14 exposure modes on the Canon A80:

  • Full auto - sets everything for you. Full "point and shoot" mode.
  • Program - selects shutter speed and aperture, but you can chose ISO, focus mode, flash mode etc.
  • Shutter Priority - you set shutter speed, camera picks aperture
  • Aperture Priority - you set aperture, camera sets shutter speed
  • Manual - you set both shutter speed and aperture
  • C1, C2 - Two custom modes. You can select a preferred shooting mode, ISO speed, flash mode, white balance etc. and these setting will be stored.
  • Movie - 320x240 or 160x120
  • Panoramic - Stitch assist mode - shows overlap with previous frame shot
  • Slow Shutter - Favors slower shutter speed
  • Fast Shutter - (Sports) Favors faster shutter speeds, higher ISO
  • Night Scene - Exposes night scenes for available light (even when flash is used)
  • Landscape - Favors smaller apertures
  • Portrait - Favors wider apertures

Shutter speeds range from 15s to 1/2000, though shutter speed is limited to 1/1000 or 1/1250 under some circumstances. For example at full aperture, the maximum shutter speed is 1/1000. With the lens at the widest setting at apertures from f3.2-f4 and at the telephoto setting at apertures from f5.6-f7.1, maximum shutter speed is 1/1250. At smaller apertures at both wide and tele settings, maximum shutter speed is 1/2000s

ISO settings

The A80 has the following options:

  • Auto ISO
  • ISO 50
  • ISO 100
  • ISO 200
  • ISO 400

For some reason, most Canon Powershot digital cameras are very conservative in their ISO ratings. Many reviews have commented on the fact that the ratings seem about 1 stop low. So, for example, when set to ISO 50, many Powershot cameras use the same exposure settings as other cameras do when set to ISO 100. The A80 seems to be no exception. I typically got the same exposure readings with an EOS 10D set to ISO 200 that I got with the A80 set to ISO 100.

This isn't really a problem, except perhaps if you were trying to use the A80 as an exposure meter for another camera - probably not something too many people would do. So the "true" ISO range of the A80 is closer to ISO 100-800 than ISO 50-400

The auto ISO setting adjusts ISO depending on exposure levels. It does, however hang tenaciously onto the lowest possible ISO setting, even when shutter speeds drop low enough that obtaining sharp images with a handheld camera become difficult. While hanging onto low ISO settings certainly produces less noise in the images, I'd rather have a sharper noisier image than a blurred noise-free image! I'm not sure it ever selects ISO 400.

There are workarounds for this. Either you can manually select a higher ISO rating rather than using auto ISO, or you can set one of the custom shooting modes to always use ISO 400, then dial in that mode when you need the fastest possible shutter speed. The high speed "sports" mode will also select a higher ISO setting, though even there it seems there is a reluctance to go to ISO 400. For example in the "sports" mode I was getting a shutter speed of 1/60 at f4.9 with the lens zooms all the way out (114mm). This corresponded to an auto ISO setting of 200 and may not have been a fast enough shutter speed to freeze action. in Av mode with ISO set to 400, the exposure was 1/125 at f4.9, which should be fast enough for sharp images at full telephoto zoom.

When the camera is in auto ISO mode, the actual ISO speed selected is not displayed on the LCD, nor is it recorded in the EXIF data, so the only way to know which ISO speed is being selected is by comparing the exposure settings with those obtained when the ISO is set manually.

Canon Powershot A80 Review - ISO noise
Noise levels at the different ISO settings (remember ISO 400 here is really closer to ISO 800)

The above image shows 100% crops from images shot at different ISO settings. Noise always looks worse on a uniform target such as this. Below are 100% crops from a more typical image, shot at ISO 50 and ISO 400 settings.

Canon Powershot A80 Review - ISO noise

White balance

There are 6 white balance options:

  • Auto
  • Sunny
  • Cloudy
  • Tungsten
  • Fluorescent (warm/cool white)
  • Fluorescent (daylight type)
  • Custom

Generally the auto setting does a pretty good job, especially outdoors. However indoors under tungsten light color balance tends significantly towards the red as shown below in a series of images of a gray card. In the Auto mode the RGB components are 176, 139 and 70 respectively. All the numbers should be the same for neutral gray. As can be seen, the tungsten balance setting does an excellent job, as does the custom setting. In the custom setting you point the camera at a neutral object (white or gray) and press the "set" button. The camera then remembers this setting.

Canon Powershot A80 Review - white balance

Under fluorescent light the auto setting does a pretty good job (RGB 143, 141, 134), but the fluorescent setting and custom settings are even better. There are two fluorescent settings, one for warm and cool light tubes and one (fluorescent H) for daylight type tubes.

Outdoors, auto white balance was good under sunny, shady and cloudy conditions. I think that for most applications, you can just leave the camera in auto white balance mode when outdoors. However if you want as close to perfect neutral/white balance as possible, the custom setting will provide that. Of course there are situations when you don't want perfectly neutral white balance. For example at sunset you probably want a scene bathed in warm tones. If you use custom white balance you will lose that. Probably the best choice in that situation would be to select the "Sunny" setting. You can often "warm" a sunny scene by using the preset "Cloudy" white balance as shown below:

Canon Powershot A80 Review - white balance
Sunny scene shot using different white balance modes

There is no white balance setting specifically for flash. Normally auto white balance does a good job, but it can be fooled under some circumstances. In that case, the "sunny" setting gives very neutral results, which makes sense as the color temperature of flash tubes is designed to match that of normal daylight.

Canon Powershot A80 Review - white balance


There are 4 focus modes

  • Wide area (9 zone) autofocus
  • Center zone autofocus
  • Macro focus (2" to 18" at 38mm; 10" to 18" at 114mm)
  • Manual Focus

In the AiAF (wide area AF) mode, the camera selects the AF zone(s) from 9 zones which cover most of the frame. The selected zone(s) are indicated on the LCD screen, so you do have some idea what the camera picked to focus on. It's also an option to use only the center AF zone for autofocus, so you always know what the camera is trying to focus on. Once you have focus lock, if you keep the shutter 1/2 depressed the focus will remain unchanged while you recompose the shot.

In macro mode the camera only focuses over a small, close range as indicated above. At the wide end of the lens the minimum field of view is 2.2" x 1.6" at a distance of 2" from the subject.. Fully zoomed out the minimum area of coverage is 3.4" x 2.6" at a distance of 10" from the subject.

In manual focus mode a distance scale is displayed on the LCD and there is an option to magnify the center of the display to aid focusing adjustment.

Optical Viewfinder

The A80 has an optical viewfinder which zooms with the lens. It's nice to have an optical viewfinder as well as the LCD screen since I prefer the camera up to my eye rather than holding it at arm's length, plus the LCD screen draws quite a lot of power, so if you want to increase battery life you can turn it off. The optical viewfinder image quality isn't great. It has more distortion than you'll see in the image and the coverage is less (you see things on the image that are slightly outside the optical viewfinder frame). Also, on the camera I tested, the image wasn't really sharp (particularly when zoomed all the way to the telephoto) and there's no focus/diopter adjustment. However it works fine as a pointing device, though it was a little annoying not to have a sharp image.

LCD screen

The A80 LCD screen opens out and swivels as shown in the image below. It can be folded into the body with either the screen side facing out (for active use), or with the screen side facing inwards for protection during storage. When flipped out and turned over so the LCD screen is visible from in front of the camera, the image is still "right side up", so you can use it for self portraits!

Canon Powershot A80 Review - LCD

Data Display

Shooting data can be readout on the LCD in both playback and shooting modes. An example is shown below. There is a histogram showing the distribution of tones within the image so you can see if you are clipping highlights (in this case exposure looks pretty good).  Also shown are:

  • Image ID number
  • Frame number
  • Shutter Speed
  • Aperture
  • Exposure compensation
  • White Balance mode
  • ISO (if manually set, does not display in auto ISO mode)
  • Metering mode
  • Image size and quality (large image, fine mode in this case)
  • Date and Time

Canon Powershot A80 Review


During shooting various setting can be changed and displayed via the LCD. For example the image below shows the options for changing white balance. For this shot the setting is "auto". The display also indicated the camera is being used in Program mode with auto flash.

Canon Powershot A80 Review - LCD

Filters and converters

Filters and tele/wide converters can be attached to the A80 via and adapter. There's a small button just to the bottom left of the lens, very similar to the lens release button on an SLR., outlined in red on the image below.

Canon Powershot A80 Review

If this button is depressed the silver bezel around the lens can be rotated and removed.

Canon Powershot A80 Review

In its place an adapter LA-DC52D can be mounted which takes 52mm accessories such as filters or the Canon wide and tele adapters. The tele adapter TC-DC52A gives a 1.75x magnification factor, which results in a maximum effective focal length of around 200mm and the wide adapter WC-DC52 gives a 0.7x multiplication factor and a widest angle of coverage of around 27mm. The Canon 250D dual element close up lens can also be attached which gives you the ability to make a full frame shot of an area as small as 1.8" x1.3" and any standard 52mm filter (e.g. a polarizer) can be mounted.

Note that if the LA-DC52D adapter is mounted on the camera, it will block much of the optical viewfinder, so you may need to use the LCD display for framing. It may also block the flash, especially at wide-angle settings, so that's something to be aware of.


The built in flash has a range up to 16ft at "wide" (38mm) and up to 8.2ft at "tele" (114mm) when the ISO is set to "auto". It's not clear from the manual just how far this is extended when the camera is set to ISO 400, since it's not clear what ISO settings are used in "auto" ISO mode when flash is used. I suspect that "auto" doesn't use ISO 400 (because of the extra noise), so you may get at least a factor of 1.4x greater flash distance then the numbers Canon gives for the "auto" setting. This is just a guess on my part though.

There are five flash modes:

  • Auto with red-eye reduction
  • Auto without red-eye reduction
  • On with red-eye reduction
  • On without red-eye reduction
  • Off

In the "auto" modes, the flash fires when necessary, in the "on" modes the flash always fires. The red eye reduction light is a bright red lamp (also used for autofocus assistance in the dark). There is a pre-flash in all flash settings, so if you use optically triggered strobes in conjunction with the built in flash you will need the type that trigger on a second flash, or the pre-flash will fire the strobes before the internal flash fires. There is no connection for an external flash, as is typical of consumer digicams.

Note that if the optional filter/auxiliary lens holder is attached to the camera, it will partially block the built in flash especially for wide angle lens settings.

Zoom and Digital Zoom

The A80 has a 3x optical zoom which goes from 7.8mm f2.8 at the wide end to 23.4mm f4.9 at the telephoto end. This approximates to the same field of view as would be given by a 38-114/2.8-4.9 lens on a full frame 35mm camera.

As well as the optical zoom there is a further 3.6x digital zoom (giving a total of 11x). Digital zoom doesn't really do much if you are saving full size (2272x1704)   images. It basically takes a cropped section of the image and enlarges it to full size. Image quality suffers and you could do the same thing in an external image editor. However if you are saving small images (say 640x480), digital zoom can be useful, since in that case it takes a crop from the full size (2272x1704) captured by the camera and resizes it to 640x480. This means that the "digital zoom" image is much better quality then you would otherwise get enlarging a section of the 640x480 image.

Shutter delay

The camera "wakeup" time, i.e. the time taken from turning the camera on until it's ready to shoot, is about 2.5 seconds, which is pretty typical for this class of camera. Not the fastest, not the slowest. Shutter lag, from first touch of the shutter release button to the image being taken is about 0.65 seconds in manual focus mode. It is usually longer in AF mode, maybe a second or more depending on the light level and the difficulty of obtaining an AF lock. If focus and exposure are locked by holding the shutter 1/2 depressed, the lag is much less. I'd estimate it at less than 200ms, but that is a very rough estimate based on images of a running stopwatch - and that includes my reaction time!. Canon says less than 100ms and I can believe that.

Canon numbers for Shooting Interval and Release Time Lag*

Shooting Interval (one shot mode)

Release Time Lag

LCD monitor On

Approx. 1.9 sec.


Less than 0.1 sec.

LCD monitor Off

Approx. 2.2 sec.

* Wide angle, Normal focus range (not macro), Large/Fine. Measured by Canon's testing standard. It will vary depending on the subject.

In normal continuous shooting mode with the LCD on, the A80 will shoot at approximately 1.6 frames/s. With the LCD off this increases to 2.5 frames/s. The number of frames you can shoot at this speed depends on the image size. For example in large/fine (2272x1704) you can shoot 5 frames, while in medium(2)/fine mode (1024x768) you can shoot about 23 frames. After this, when the buffer fills, shooting rate slows down. For example in large/fine mode the rate drops to 1 image every 3 seconds.


The A80 takes 4 AA cells rather than a Li-ion battery pack. Though AA cells are a little more bulky than a custom Li-ion pack could be, they have the advantage of being easily obtainable and they are inexpensive to replace. You may also get longer battery life. For example the li-ion cell used with the S45 is a 7.2v 570mAh, while 4 good NiMH cells will give you 4.8v 2000mAh, so they store about 2.3x as much energy. Battery life does seem excellent, though I didn't have the chance to do any detailed tests. Canon specs are as follows:

  Shots with LCD on Shots with LCD off Playback time
AA Alkaline 250 800 280 min
AA NiMH (1600mAh) 350 1000 280 min

The test conditions are: Temperature = 23C, alternating wide and tele shots at 20s intervals, flash fired every 4 shots, camera turned off and on every 8 shots.

This is pretty impressive. As I said, I can't confirm these numbers, but I can confirm that battery life is good. I filled up a 32MB card maybe 8 times with the LCD on, lots of image reviewing and setting changes and there was no sign of the NiMH batteries I was using running down. I'd guess that's well over 200 images. However it's worth noting that there is no battery "fuel gauge" on the A80 to tell you the state of the batteries. An icon does appear when the battery is running low, but there is no icon to say the batteries are ok (except the absence of the low battery icon!).

Sample Images

Canon have a few full size sample images on their website. You can access them at http://www.powershot.com/powershot2/a80/sample.html


The A80 comes with a a suite of software applications

For Macintosh:
  • ImageBrowser 3.5.1
  • Photostich 3.1
  • ArcSoft PhotoImpression 4
  • Arcsoft Videoimpression 1.6
For Windows:
  • ZoomBrowser EX 4.5.1
  • PhotoRecord 2.0
  • Photostich 3.1
  • Camera TWAIN Driver 6.2
  • Camera WIA Driver 6.2
  • Apple Quick Time
  • ArcSoft PhotoImpression 4
  • Arcsoft Videoimpression 1.7

These programs should provide most consumers with the basic software they need to view, sort, select and manipulate images. ZoomBrowser now even has basic database features where you can assign keywords to images and do sorts on those keywords. Photostich enables users to make multi-frame panoramic images. The Arcsoft programs provide fairly basic image and video editing. Don't expect Photoshop type capabilities though. They are fairly simple and a OK start for users with no other software, but if you intend to do any sort of serious editing you're probably going to want to buy something with more power. There are a number of pretty good image editing programs for under $100, for example Paint Shop Pro. Not everyone needs to spend $700 on Photoshop!

What does the camera lack?

Given the price and intended audience, this is a pretty full featured camera. However, if you asked to to find some faults with the A80 - or some features to be added on the next model, I'd suggest these as features which might be found on some cameras sold for a similar price and aimed at a similar market segment.

  • Support for CF type II cards. The A80 only takes type I, which means you can't use any microdrive or some larger capacity type II solid state CF cards. This may not be very important to the average user, but if the A80 is used as a pocketable backup camera for a DSLR shooter it may mean some cards will be incompatible.
  • Ability to save RAW images. The A80 only saves JPEGs. Now the JPEG quality is excellent and for well exposed images shooting RAW wouldn't get you much, but the 12 bit RAW data can sometimes be used to save images which are underexposed (or even slightly over exposed), plus you can adjust color balance and several other parameters "after the fact" if you have images saved in a RAW format.

Note that the Canon PowerShot S45 has both of these features, so if the A80 had them there would be even less differences between these already pretty similar models!


The A80 provides a pretty complete package for the beginner and advanced amateur who wants a pocket sized digital camera. The 4MP sensor is large enough to allow good 8x10 prints and the camera allows "auto everything" for the complete beginner, yet gives a full range of semi-automatic and fully manual modes for those who want complete control over their image. The lens is a typical 3x optical zoom covering 38-114mm, which is pretty much standard for small cameras of this type. Accessories are available which extend this range to 27mm on the wide end to 200mm on the telephoto end, though at additional cost. Autofocus and autoexposure are generally accurate and auto white balance takes care of most situations - though under indoor tungsten lighting the "tungsten" setting does give better results.

The build quality is good. The camera feels "solid" with a (mostly) metal shell and the built in "grip" (bulge the 4th AA battery!) makes holding the camera in one hand quite easy - as long as you are right handed and you don't have large hands! In fact while holding the camera in my right hand it was possible to zoom, fire the shutter, select the shooting mode (e.g. program, aperture priority, shutter priority etc.) and set the flash mode (on/off/auto) - all just using my thumb and forefinger. Other functions such as setting ISO, white balance and exposure compensation require two hands.

Overall I'd certainly recommend this camera and give this camera a "A" rating. I'd say it's suitable for anyone from beginners to more experienced shooters. It won't replace a DSLR, but it's a fraction of the cost and weight and offers all the features many casual photographers need.

All text and images are (©) Copyright 2003 Robert M. Atkins   All Rights Reserved

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

Steve Hovland , December 01, 2003; 09:47 A.M.

I have an A70 and like it very much. It has essentially the same software as the A80, which includes a usable manual mode.

I can use the camera with "studio" flash setups by blocking the flash from the subject with a small piece of foamcore while triggering the optical slaves of the larger units.

Once you get to this price point and resolution, you might consider going a little farther to a G5 with the flash shoe and the RAW capability.

With RAW you can upgrade your image files to 16-bit and have a better result all the way through the print.

Bob Atkins , December 01, 2003; 01:19 P.M.

Note that RAW is in fact a 12-bit mode, since that's all the data the camera generates. You can make 16-bit TIFF files from RAW files, but you only have 12 significant bits of data. However you do still get to use "16-bit" mode in Photoshop!

The G5 is an excellent camera too (see the photo.net review), but it is bigger, heavier and costs around $200 more.

Carl Cherry , December 01, 2003; 02:55 P.M.

Thanks for an excellent review. The image detail compared to my beloved 10D was interesting. But even if the A80 had better resolution than the 1Ds, it would still suffer the Achille's heel of all consumer digicams: infinite depth of field. If you like everything in focus, great. If not, these cameras will quickly drive you nuts. Carl

Bob Atkins , December 01, 2003; 04:13 P.M.

You're correct on the DOF issue. It's basic optics. Small sensor cameras (and ALL non-SLR digicams have small sensors) give you a greater DOF.

This is a mixed blessing. For the creative photographer who wants control over DOF, it's a downside. However for an average "consumer" photographer it may be an benefit. Such photographers may prefer everything to be in focus - in fact I've seen complaints by such users that images made with film based SLRs "don't have enough DOF".

So what suits one person may not suit another, but it's a valid point. Depending on what you shoot and what your needs are, the DOF you get with a non-SLR digital camera can be an issue.

John Yu , December 01, 2003; 08:51 P.M.

The purple fringe can be *very profound* at certain situations when viewed at 100%. e.g.

http://www.pbase.com/image/22808465/original (the guy's neck)

http://www.pbase.com/image/23782331/original (branches)

But not sure if it will turn up in prints. And when viewing on screen, in practice, no one will view it at 100%. :-)

Bob Atkins , December 01, 2003; 11:44 P.M.

Purple fringing can be very hard to nail down. Sometimes it shows up, sometimes it doesn't. It's usually most visible when you have a very bright - almost overexposed, or actually overexposed - area next to a very dark area. Things like dark branches against a cloudy sky tend to show it at its worst - especially if the sky is pushed all the way to maximum brightness or overexposed.

I think it happens with all digital cameras - from P&S to DSLRs - and it seems to be related in some way to sensor "blooming" (charge leakage).

I did see it on some A80 images, though it didn't seem any more pronounced than I've seen with other digicams. On some shots it can be a problem, but most of the time on "normal" subjects it isn't noticable in a print. At least that was what I found.

Pradeep Satyaprakash , December 01, 2003; 11:51 P.M.

Excellent and timely review Bob. Thanks.

The A80 is the current camera I am recommending to all my friends and family when they ask me about a camera to buy. I used to recommend the G3, but for most people, I think they can do without the RAW format and the hotshoe flash mount. This camera is amazing. It basically replicates about 90% of my G3's functionality in a smaller, lighter, and cheaper camera.

I wonder why Canon would not use the fact that their ISO rating is off to make it into a marketing point? I mean, a camera with an ISO rating with 100-800 sounds more impressive to an average consumer than one with a 50-400 rating (even though we know better).

I've purchased one for my mother and it should be coming in about two days. I'll post some sample pics after I've played around with it comparing it to my G3.

I am somewhat disappointed that it does not come with a free copy Adobe Photoshop Elements.



Whayne Padden , December 02, 2003; 12:44 A.M.

A80 is tempting but I think I'd go for the S50 if I couldn't afford the G5. Many good digicams around now and it's getting harder to choose.

LH Foo , December 02, 2003; 03:01 A.M.

I agree with Bob Atkins on the comment about A80 sensor ... I seriously think A80 sensor is of very good quality from my own comparison of A80 photo quality against 300D.

Definitely, a value-for-money 4MP digital camera and a digicam that I will definitely get if I have some extra money to get a simple digital point and shoot for hiking and rough adventurous activity use!!!

But somehow, for serious photography use, it lacks what dSLR and higher end digicams have to offer - like smaller aperture then f8.0, larger LCD, better optical quality of lens ... :).

Howard Klys , December 02, 2003; 10:35 A.M.

Canon seem to a have a real grip on the digital arena. The A80 is not a simple upgrade but, crucially, offers a larger sensor to go with more pixels. Add to this custom function sets on the main control dial and an assault on the battery life issue. As with their digital SLRs the competition is left trailing. Who is running this company and why do they keep getting it right? I don't have an A80 but I intend to get one.

Rob Bernhard , December 02, 2003; 12:00 P.M.

My A80 just arrived yesterday from B&H. $409 for the camera and a 256MB Lexar CF card. The price was too good to pass up.

While this is my first official digital camera, it's not the first one I've used. I've had my hands on a half-a-dozen brands for various amounts of usage.

Time and time again I kept coming back to the Canons. I've used the S30 quite a bit and the S400 (both owned by friends of mine) and I was quite pleased with them.

Cost and features are what drove me to the A80. I'm going to be sharing the camera with my wife and I think it's the best compromise of features vs price one can get today. I've already shot a ton of test photos and I've been very pleased with performance and output.

Bob's review has pretty much confirmed what I've seen thus far. I've seen very little evidence of fringing in the test shots I've done, though I'm certain (as Bob indicates) that the camera can be tortured into producing some. Noise at ISO400 in my test shots hasn't been as pronounced as the samples in the article but I've not done any extensive testing there either. I suspect that I'll be sticking with ISO50 and ISO100 for most of my shooting.

Bob Atkins , December 02, 2003; 02:50 P.M.

With regard to apertures smaller than f8, the question is whether you need them!

The DOF you get from the use of a small sensor is far greater than you get when using a full frame sensor or film, so your DOF at f8 will be greater than you can get with full frame film/sensor cameras at much smaller apertures.

The only reason you'd want to stop down past f8 would be under very bright conditions when shooting at high ISO settings where the fastest shutter speed was too slow. But in that case, why not reduce the ISO setting? Since you can set ISO 50 (really ISO 100) and have a shutter speed of 1/1000 at f8, you won't ever be overexposed.

Also, stopping down past f8 with a small sensor would result in degraded image quality due to diffraction effects.

So though you might think you want to stop down past f8, in reality you don't!

grepmat , December 02, 2003; 07:23 P.M.

"Purple fringing" is due to chromatic abberation in the lens and is completely unrelated to blooming, which occurs in the CCD. Chromatic abberation often appears as a purple fringe because purple typically distorts more than other colors in an ordinary glass lens. Fringing is most easily seen when viewing a bright white light against a dark background. Hence dark tree branches against a blue sky is in fact not a very tough subject, unless the branches themselves include bright reflections. By an entirely different principle, blooming in CCD's occurs when an excessively bright light causes some of the CCD pixels to overflow and dramatically spill the excess electrons into neighboring pixels. Interestingly, blooming and abberation can often be seen together, when a very bright light is against a dark background, causing both effects to occur even though they generated by entirely different principles and in different parts of the camera. Cheers!

LH Foo , December 02, 2003; 11:55 P.M.

Smaller aperture is quite useful for night shots and for adding various effects. In my night shots test, wide aperture at f2.8 produces lots of chromatic aberration (CA). At f8.0, the photos come out better and we can see "starburst" effect just started to show on light spots. It will definitely be better if you could just push the aperture smaller. I guess smaller aperture is also useful to take photos with "curtain" effect of waterfall since you need longer exposure.

And since I am on CA, just want to mention that I agree with grepmat on CA which is due to the quality of the lens optical.

Bob Atkins , December 03, 2003; 12:00 A.M.

But chromatic aberration is not dependant on difference in brightness. Purple fringing tends to show up only when there is a dark object against an overexposed background.

Also, chromatic aberration tends to show up as purple fringes on one side of an object and yellow fringes on the other (sometimes red/green, depending on the wavelengths best corrected). Purple fringing tends to be only on one side of an object.

Both of these obeservation make me suspect that it's not just "plain old chromatic aberration" that's going on when the dreaded "purple fringing" is evident. Another interesting fact often quoted is that purple fringing can be reduced by stopping down the lens - but stopping down a lens doesn't reduce chromatic aberration, at least not transverse chromatic aberration. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is somewhat reduced by stopping down - but longitudinal chromatic aberration doesn't give rise to color fringing - transverse does. Longitudinal CA usually results in lowering of contrast and sharpness and an overall "color wash", not color on one side of an object.

So exactly what "purple fringing" is due to isn't clear. It appears to be different from chromatic aberration as observed with film. It may be affected by blooming, or it may be an artifact of Bayer sensor algorithms, it may be related to aberrations of the lens or the sensor. I'm sure the camera companies know what's going on, but so far I've not seen an definative paper which explains the "purple fringing" effect. Many people assume that it's "chromatic aberration", but to me that just doesn't ring true.

Steve Hovland , December 03, 2003; 10:39 A.M.

Regarding ASA numbers:

I started out thinking that Canon's values were too conservative. For quite awhile I ran at -2/3 compensation on my A70.

After recent testing with a gray scale and histogram against my incident meter, I have decided that they are pretty much on the money. On the histogram my highlight values are pegged right up against the right side. I may underexpose 1/3 stop just for safety.

Here's a test picture. Notice that the histogram falls off at the right edge and that all of the steps on the gray scale are visible. I did notice that the Red value was at 255 and stayed there when I reduced exposure 1/3, so I may do some more testing to see what level will bring the Red down to 250 or so.

Steve Hovland , December 03, 2003; 10:40 A.M.

The picture:

Bob Atkins , December 03, 2003; 02:57 P.M.

For quite a while I ran at -2/3 compensation on my A70

-2/3 with respect to your incident meter?

The metering on the A80 seems good, and I've never seen it suggested that the A70 or A60 (or any other PoweShot) be run with -ve exposure compensation with respect to internal metering. The A80 certainly did not need that.

What does seem to be the case from other web reviews, and what I found from my own tests, is that the A80 (and many other PoweShot cameras) give the same exposure settings as a film camera or 10D does when set to double the ISO.

So, for example, the A80 might set 1/250, f5.6 at ISO 50, whereas the 10D would set 1/250, f5.6 at ISO 100. Both give properly exposed images.

grepmat , December 03, 2003; 05:53 P.M.

Mr. Atkins: I don't wish to enter an extended debate with you, but so-called "purple fringing" is absolutely due to chromatic abberation in the lens, and is unrelated to blooming, as I stated. As with many other abberations in ordinary glass lenses, it is reduced by stopping down. Purple tends to dominate in ordinary glass lenses, but all other colors can be visible as well. You may wish to visit some of the Astronomy communities, for example, for further information. They tend to be obsessed with it since it causes very serious problems when viewing the moon or other bright objects such as planets and the brighter stars against the black sky (and that's with purely visual observing). Cheers.

Bob Atkins , December 04, 2003; 02:51 A.M.

You can argue if you want, but lateral chromatic aberration is NOT reduced by stopping down a lens. Any basic textbook on physical optics will tell you that. As I said, longitudinal chromatic aberration is, but LCA doesn't appear on one side of an object.

Here's a brief explanation from the Nikon website:

...The first type is longitudinal chromatic aberration, in which focal points vary with wavelength. This type of aberration causes color smearing and a loss of sharpness in the center of the image. It can be controlled by stopping down the lens.

The second type is lateral chromatic aberration, in which maginification varies with wavelength. Lateral chromatic aberration is also known as transverse chromatic aberration or chromatic difference of magnification. This is also visible, causing color smear and loss of sharpness for non-axial light. It will not improve even if the lens is stopped down...

My background is in optics and spectroscopy and I ran an optical testing lab at Bell Labs for quite a while, so I know a bit about this stuff. I certainly don't know everything, but at least I know a little.

I'm not saying that purple fringing is totally unrelated to chromatic aberration of some sort. It may be. It's just that it doesn't look like chromatic aberration to me, and I've not yet seen any hard evidence that it is. Mostly it seems to be an assumption because people can't figure out what else it could be due to, so they assume it's just chromatic aberration. Everyone has seen some sort of chromatic aberration and purple fringing looks superficially similar. Hence any sort of color is caused by "chromatic aberration".

Since you also see it in DSLR images and the same lenses that show it don't show the same effect on film, I'd say odds are pretty good that it's not just a chromatic defect of the lens.

I'm not a CCD engineer, so I can't speak of the details of CCD defects, but I know what blooming is, I've seen it in some scientific digital instrument cameras - mostly B&W. It often resembles (though isn't identical to) what we call "purple fringing".

I'd be interested in the comments of professional CCD/CMOS experts as to what they think is the cause of "PF"!

grepmat , December 04, 2003; 01:32 P.M.

Bob, in fact I am a "professional CCD/CMOS expert" such as you ask for, though I don't generally use those terms. I have a Ph.D. in the specialty and many, many solid state sensor array designs under my belt, as well as dozens of peer-reviewed publications in the field. Thanks.

Bob Atkins , December 04, 2003; 05:15 P.M.

Well it's good to hear from an expert! I'll match your Ph.D. with my Ph.D, but mine's in materials and spectroscopy. My patents and peer reviewed papers are mostly on optical subjects and materials so my CCD/CMOS experience is all practical rather than theoretical.

I'd really like to know what causes purple fringing and I'm open to any data that backs up any theory. All I can say is that if it diminishes when you stop down then it cannot be classical lateral chromatic aberration, and if it is not present in the center of the field it cannot be classical lateral chromatic aberration, since these are the defining characteristics of those types of CA. Things get more complex when you have both present, or if you add in other Seidel aberrations like spherical, but my guess is if there was CA, it would be mostly lateral in these lenses.

The fact that it seems to happen with ALL digital cameras when they are pushed hard makes me suspect that it's not just the lens. I suppose ALL the lenses could be bad, but then why isn't it seen when you use a film based camera? I never noticed it in any of my slides and it wasn't something I ever heard anyone complain about before consumer digital cameras appeared. It seems to be a digital characteristic, not a lens characteristic, and thus seems to me to be unlikely to be totally lens related and likely that it is sensor related. It could be both of course, which makes analysis more complex.

I'm sure they guys in the lab at Canon, Nikon, Sony, HP etc. know exactly what's going on, but I haven't heard any of them talking about it.

Maybe I'll do a few test and see if I can gather some hard data on when it appears, where it appears and what makes it better and worse. Then all we have to come up with is a theory that fits the data!

Steve Dimitriadis , December 04, 2003; 06:33 P.M.

Can we take from all of this that the purple fringing that some other user/reviews have commented on is not that bad/as good as can be expected on the A80 and there are ways to get around it?


a few questions

how did you find the lcd in daylight - does a swivel help with image viewing?

What if any difference would better quality AA rechargable batteries make to battery life?

As an eos film user, how similar is Av Tv operation on this camera?

Cheers Mate SD

Bob Atkins , December 05, 2003; 01:59 A.M.

I didn't find the "purple fringing" objectionable in most shots. As I said, if you torture it by shooting dark branches against an overexposed sky, you'll see it, but that applies to any digital camera (or at least all the ones I've seen or read about!)

BTW I'm running some tests now (not on the A80 which is back with Canon since it was only on loan to us) and I think I have some data that shows it's not due to chromatic aberration - at least what I'm calling purple fringing isn't. There is some purple/yellow fringing which is CA, but the two are different. When I get all the data together, I'll post the results.

The higher capacity the batteries, the greater the battery life. I think you can now get 2200mAh NiMH batteries. The ones I used were 1600mAh.

The Av and Tv modes are similar to those on an EOS, in that you select Av or TV with a dial, then you use the 4-way rocker switch (lefat and right) to change aperture (in Av) or shutter speed (in Tv). The values read out on the LCD screen.

LCD viewing wasn't too bad. They're all a bit tricky to see in direct sunlight, but the A80 screen was pretty readable. You do have the optical viewfinder option too. The tilt/swivel was very useful for some odd situations, like shooting with the camera over your head, around corners or taking self portraits!

Steve Hovland , December 05, 2003; 09:17 A.M.

Bob: I was running -2/3 compensation in Av mode, using the built in evaluative metering. In part that was based on an early review that felt the ISO values were too low. I now think that was wrong.

However, on my recent test picture I saw that the red channel histogram was much further to the right than the green and blue histograms, so I am contemplating more tests to see if that is generally true or just true of that one picture. There is not a lot of red in that test picture, but there was a lot of pale green wall which might have affected it.

Has anybody done any extensive testing of digitals to see if they are reasonably equal in their color sensitivity?

Bob Atkins , December 05, 2003; 02:45 P.M.

Steve - I think you're misunderstanding the situation wrt ISO.

The cameras internal metering is fine. It gives well exposed images and no corrections are needed.

The "problem" is that what Canon label as "ISO 50" on most of the PowerShot line, most other camera makers would label as "ISO 100".

You don't ever need to know this unless you are using an exposure metering system outside of that of the camera. You don't need to apply any exposure compensation and to most users this "problem" will never be noticed.

I quote "problem", because, in fact, it's not a problem in the sense that it causes no ill effects unless you use an external exposure meter. With a camera like the A80 (or any powershot) this is a pretty unlikely event!

Steve Hovland , December 05, 2003; 03:51 P.M.

Actually, I do use an exposure meter with my A70 in manual mode, doing studio-type practice shots for both people and things.

Steve Hovland , December 06, 2003; 02:46 P.M.

I apoligize if I seem to be beating a dead horse, but I did make some test shots, indoors and out, with and without flash, and then inspected the histograms for R,G, and B separately.

My conclusion is that if you have a scene that has a lot of reddish, bluish, or greenish colors, then bracket downward from normal exposure to protect yourself from having one of the channels blown out.

If you do a lot of people photography you may want to use the red histogram to help you find the correct exposure compensation factor.

Vladislav Bondarenko , December 08, 2003; 06:56 P.M.

About purple fringe. If two specialists say it is not due to the objective and not due to the matrix itself - can it then be abberations of the microlenses on the matrix?

Bob Atkins , December 12, 2003; 02:48 P.M.

"purple fringing" due to lateral chromatic aberration

I'm certainly not saying that "purple fringing" is never caused by the lens, nor that it's never due to chromatic aberration. Certainly both these statements can be true.

For example look at the illustration here with this post (which isn't from the A80). It displays what might be called "purple fringing". This example of "purple fringing" has all the classic signs of lateral chromatic aberration. It does not change with aperture, it shows both purple and yellow fringes (though the yellow is much less obvious because it occurs over the blue rather than black areas) and it can be explained by the fact that the blue image is slightly smaller than the red and green images - which is what lateral chromatic aberration is - a difference in the image size which depends on color. Also, though not shown, it isn't present in the center of the image and gets worse the farther you go from the optical axis. Classical LCA.

Is there "purple fringing" which can't be explained in this way? Maybe. I see claims that some "purple fringing" is reduced by stopping down. If it is, it's not lateral chromatic aberration. I don't have any examples of this, so maybe it's a myth. I don't know.

ico 001 , December 12, 2003; 04:33 P.M.

Two years ago you would not dare to seriously compare performance of high end SLR lens and P&S lens. Is the sharpening algorithm making up for the lens quality or the sensors are not detailed enough to account for the difference in glass?

Mike Lepp , December 17, 2003; 07:23 P.M.

I want to add the one thing this camara is really bad at, that's low light focusing. I would actually call it near pathetic because in what I consider a well lit room, it struggles to find focus.

Outside in bright sunlight there isn't as big an issue. It's about comprable to a film P&S.

The bottom line is I bought this camera for my wife after her epic crashed. Being she wants it mostly for events, which most occur indoor, she despises it and wants me to get her a film camera.

Quite frankly, for her intentions I don't blame her! I found the best use for it at the xmas party the other night. Give it to the kids, they'll have a blast and the pics look fine to them on the lcd.

Fernando PĂ©rez , December 25, 2003; 10:35 P.M.

Some comments after playing with one of these for a day. While this is my first own digital camera, I've used my wife's G1 and G2 extensively for several years, and Canon SLRs, so I'm pretty familiar with Canon's system.

The reasons why I got the A80 were mainly very good reviews, a small size with good manual controls, and the swiveling LCD. To me this is critical, since I intend to use it a lot in mountaineering situations where an exposed LCD would quickly end up broken.

After using the G1/G2, I've also become addicted to the framing and holding convenience of the swiveling LCD, to the point of considering it almost a requirement for any digicam I buy. I also find that it allows me to hold the camera in a much more natural body position, with my arms and hands closer to my body. This tends to result in much less shake than the typical arm's length positions that most people seem to use with digicams so they can see the screen.

Instead of rehashing the mostly positive comments of others, I'll point out a few minor nits I have with it, mainly ergonomic:

- The optical viewfinder is too far right. It makes it rather uncomfortable to use, as your nose bumps into your hand. I noticed the A70 had it further left, a much better design.

- The set/menu buttons are too far left. It would be much more comfortable to operate the rear controls with your right thumb if these buttons were moved closer to the rest of the button pack (about 1cm to the right).

- The CF slot is incredibly tight. Getting a card out is very tricky, especially because the little pusher doesn't move it out far enough to make it possible to grab the card with two fingers. Maybe it will smooth out over time, but right now it's a PITA.

- As noted here in this very detailed comment:


the LCD is of a much lower resolution than even that used in the A70. This IS a drawback for manual focusing or checking the focus of a shot you already took. Not a deal breaker, but I'm a bit annoyed that a supposedly better model than the A70 took such a step back on a critical part of the camera.

- Another regression vs. the A70: the movie mode is limited to 320x240, while the A70 can do VGA (640x480). This is mostly a gimmick, but still a regression which surprised me a bit.

At the end of the day, I love it. I got it with a LowePro DigiRes 10AW bag. This allows me to fit the camera, an extra CF card and a spare set of AA batteries in a very compact pouch with a builtin raincover. Perfect for what I wanted it, mostly mountaineering photography when I don't feel like lugging an SLR around.

But I wanted to note a few minor negative ergonomic points which I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else, for the sake of those thinking about buying this otherwise great little toy.

David Barts , January 02, 2004; 01:59 A.M.

A80 is tempting but I think I'd go for the S50 if I couldn't afford the G5. Many good digicams around now and it's getting harder to choose.
I'm still deciding which camera to get for my first digicam.

The S50 is a nice camera (I'm especially fond of the all-metal case and its ability to save images in RAW format on a microdrive). However, the A80 can focus twice as close to the subject as the S50 (5cm vs. 10cm). Put a close-up lens on the A80 and that becomes four times as close, because the S50 has no provision for attaching add-on lenses or filters. Seeing as how macro photography is one of my main interests, those two drawbacks removed the S50 from consideration.

Regarding the G5, it's also very tempting. But one of my main reasons for getting a digicam is to have a small camera that I'll almost always have with me. The G5 is as large as some SLR bodies. A 4 megapixel JPEG that you shot is a better image than a 5 megapixel RAW file that you couldn't shoot because you left the camera at home.

Vlad Bolboaca , January 02, 2004; 09:14 A.M.

Is the E18 error (a common problem on most of the prevoius PS A... )series solved yet? That was a major reason to avoid Canon for me (had an A60 and it cost me a lot to fix that problem not covered by the waranty)- but I plan to return if this error is no longer an issue...

Ira Crummey , January 04, 2004; 12:54 A.M.

I am currently debating this camera or an HP 945, other than the zoom range and pixel count advantage of the HP, which of these cameras would you recommend to a user who is mainly concerned with the best picture quality on a tight budget? (BTW I currently use a Minolta 7000 so I am not accustomed to high tech systems, I just want picture quality that will at least approach what I am used to, not a snapshot camera.)


Alexander Wong , January 07, 2004; 01:33 A.M.

Hi Bob, thanks for your easy-to-read review! Just wanted to ask a question regarding Carl Cherry's comment on, December 1, 2003:

"You're correct on the DOF issue. It's basic optics. Small sensor cameras (and ALL non-SLR digicams have small sensors) give you a greater DOF."

Just wanted know if this is really true? does anyone know if there is a non-SLR digicam which would allow you to manipulate DOF?

- Alex

LH Foo , January 07, 2004; 06:22 A.M.

DOF is deeper in smaller sensor than large sensor in dSLR. Of course you will be able to control the DOF in A80, but your f2.8 will probably have equivalent DOF of f4.0/5.6 on dSLR.

So, for portrait shots, the background will not look as blurred as what you get with dSLR with faster lens.

Orlando Andico , February 11, 2004; 02:52 P.M.

Regarding the fringing, someone else already mentioned this but it got lost in the noise.

Perhaps it is caused by the Bayer matrix (micro-lenses) in front of the CCD array. As is well-known, each "pixel" of those 4 glorious megapixels can only sense brightness, so a color filter has to sit in front of it. So basically your 4 megapixels only have (4/3) megapixels of color data, the missing data is interpolated.

I seem to recall from Phil Askey's review of the Sigma DSLR's (SD9 in particular) that it did exhibit less purple fringing than the EOS 10D (or was that D60) in spite of its lower pixel count (3M vs 6M). After all, that is Foveon's value proposition right? full color data at every pixel.

Orlando Andico , February 11, 2004; 02:59 P.M.

Regarding the depth of field, there's a rather simple rule of thumb for determining "effective" DOF of a non-SLR digicam.

Basically, take the "focal length multiplier" e.g. your normal 3.3MP digicam usually has a 7-21mm lens, which is equivalent in 35mm terms to a 35-105mm (roughly). This is common for 1/1.8" CCDs.

So the "focal length multiplier" is 5 (35/7 = 105/21).

Some Olympus E10 fans did a long and tedious derivation using the Circle of Confusion compared to image size, but it boils down to --

f2 on the hypothetical camera above (7-21mm) = f10 on a 35mm camera f4 on the digicam = ff20 on a 35mm camera

You just multiply the actual f-number of the digicam by the multiplication factor, and that'll give you the f-number you'd need on a 35mm camera to achieve the same DOF. The simplistic formula also works for e.g. MF and LF lenses and apertures.

So obviously, due to the extremely short focal lengths of consumer digicams, you'll NEVER get the degree of DOF control you want -- forget about out-of-focus pleasant bokeh backgrounds. Plus the fact a lot of digicams have crude diaphragms with 2 or 4 blades, rules out pleasant bokeh anyway.

Wim Woittiez , July 03, 2004; 04:48 A.M.

Hi all,

I bought a Powershot A60 about a year ago and returned it to the store. Everything was great about it - except its extremely limited dynamic range. It was impossible to get decent outdoor shots, except with the sun directly behind me... Is it safe to say the A80 no longer suffers from this problem? I saw the A75 has a much larger CCD (2.7'' vs 1.8'' for the A80), so probably a much better dynamic range too. Does anyone have any experience with it? The dynamic range obviously is the one crucial bit of technical information that no one ever mentions...



Olivier Gallen , July 28, 2004; 08:56 P.M.


You have probably been VERY close to the right explanation for "Purple Fringing". Think again about it, with the following words in mind: "Bright light", "blurred", "focusing", "concentrating", "Saturation" (not blooming), "Longitudinal Chromatic Aberrations"... tada!!!(or think more :) and click here.
I would be very interested to have your opinion on this explanation...


Nick De Haan , January 24, 2005; 12:13 A.M.

I think the swivel LCD (though hard to see in bright light) is an awesome feature. It allows me to get extreme angle and different perspectives that I would not have been able to capture otherwise. Just something to consider.

Ira Crummey , April 25, 2005; 12:04 P.M.

Wim Woittiez, July 3, 2004 Wrote "I saw the A75 has a much larger CCD (2.7'' vs 1.8'' for the A80), so probably a much better dynamic range too."

Had to point out that the A75 has a 1/2.7" CCD vs the A80 1/1.8", that means that the A75 has a SMALLER sensor, the same physical size as the A60. The A80's sensor is actually a size seen in much higher spec prosumer models.


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