Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
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,
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.
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
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
4 x AA cell power - 1000 shots per charge for NiMH cells (with LCD off)
*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:
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.
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!
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.
Fast Shutter - (Sports) Favors faster shutter speeds, higher ISO
Night Scene - Exposes night scenes for available light (even when flash is
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
The A80 has the following options:
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
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.
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
There are 6 white balance options:
Fluorescent (warm/cool white)
Fluorescent (daylight type)
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.
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:
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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
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
White Balance mode
ISO (if manually set, does not display in auto ISO mode)
Image size and quality (large image, fine mode in this case)
Date and Time
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.
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
If this button is depressed the silver bezel around the lens can
be rotated and removed.
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
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
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.
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
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
AA NiMH (1600mAh)
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
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!).
The A80 comes with a a suite of software applications
ArcSoft PhotoImpression 4
Arcsoft Videoimpression 1.6
ZoomBrowser EX 4.5.1
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
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
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.