With a 6x optical zoom and a 7.1Mp resolution the A710 IS offers a crowd-pleasing combination of features at a pocket-pleasing price. Duncan Evans reports.
While everyone usually casts admiring glances at the Ixus range, or compliments the SLRs and the G-series for their power and functionality, the A-series of budget cameras have been steadily improving. The A710 IS might be inexpensive, but it has plenty to offer the cost-conscious compact owner. Specifications
- 7.1 Megapixels
- 6x optical zoom with optical Image Stabilizer
- DIGIC II and iSAPS
- 9-point AiAF and FlexiZone AF/AE
- 20 shooting modes and My Colours
- 2.5" LCD screen
- Safety Zoom
- High-speed ISO800
- 30fps VGA and 60fps QVGA movies
- Wide range of accessories
A reasonably high resolution and 6x optical zoom place the A710 IS at the top end of the budget compact ranges offered by Canon, Nikon, Samsung and Fuji. It offers a bit of everything, aiming to be an all-rounder. Modes and features
Like it's sibling, the A640, the A710 IS uses similar controls and specification, making upgrading across the Canon compact range particularly pain-free. For this camera, there are a host of functions, packed into it's relatively small footprint. The top of the body hosts the standard zoom rocker/fire button, a recessed on/off button and the mode dial. This has plenty of photographic control with P, A, Tv and M modes, plus a truly Auto mode. Portrait, Landscapes and Night Portrait scene modes have been pulled out of the Scene mode setting as they are the most commonly used anyway. This is sound thinking, but does denude the Scene mode selections, like the loggers have been in chopping. What's left is Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Colour Accent (for tinting), Colour Swap, Night Snapshot and Kids & Pets. No thumbnails to illustrate what they are, but this isn't really required, and the menus and option changes are actioned in a smooth and pleasing way. The actual mode dial is strongly knurled so it can't be accidentally knocked into a new setting.
The zoom takes about four to five seconds to go from wide angle to telephoto, which isn't that fast, and it goes in steps as well so accurate framing isn't easy. The Image stabilisation is relatively effective though, enabling shots to be taken at slightly longer exposures hand held. It isn't a cure-all panacea for low light level photography, but it does help.
You'll still be forced to up the ISO if it gets dingy, especially when using the zoom, and this covers 80, 100, 200, 400 and 800. That's not a great range and other compacts offer up to ISO1600.
On the back of the camera there's a 2.5” LCD and an optical viewfinder, the latter of which is about as much use as the one on the A640. The LCD monitor only has 115k pixels, which isn't a lot for screen that size. The control buttons and joypad are much the same as the A640, just more squashed in. Three buttons cover rarely accessed features like the basic configuration, the display options, and direct printing. The other covers Exposure Compensation
, once again, a relatively limited +/- 2EV. Pressing up on the joypad activates the flash which has a red-eye mode. Pressing down sets the focus to Manual, Macro
or Autofocus. Happily, when in manual mode, the centre of the screen is magnified and a measurement scale appears, making it easier to get the subject into focus. As the camera can focus down to just 1cm, it makes it ideal for macro work.
Pressing the Function Set button in the middle of the joypad activates the features menu and is used to set selections on that. Here is the useful stuff like White Balance
options, ISO range, Metering mode (Spot, Centre weighted, Zone), resolution and compression, flash adjustment and colour profiling. The resolution and compression options are all centred around how the camera saves JPEG files, but at the highest 7Mp res and quality you can expect to get a paltry four shots on the miserly 16Mb SD card that's supplied. Build and handling
The body is quite small in terms of length, but it has a slightly chunky feel and weighs in at a lightweight 210g. It's a mix of a metal front piece and plastic, but it all feel very solid and pleasing to hold. The hand grip is small, but angular and provides good grip. In fact, all the buttons and controls have a solid feel and good feedback, giving the camera a quality feel to it that its price belies. The lens surrounding also comes with a cover that can be removed to enable a wide angle and telephoto lens accessory to be added. Flash options
It can be connected to the Canon high power flash unit HF-DC1, or it can use the built in unit. This is fairly weak with a range of just 3.5m at ISO100, but then on a compact like this it's going to be used to illuminate people at fairly close range. The flash options are neat though because it means you can use it with +/-2 EV to overexpose, or use as subtle fill-flash instead of the usual flattening blast of light. Performance
Startup time is fairly speedy considering it has a 6x zoom to unfurl. It takes around three seconds from pressing the on button to being able to shoot. Aperture range is a standard f/2-8-f/8, and while the fastest shutter speed at 1/2000sec may not be spectacular it will cope with most situations. What's better is that it can do a long exposure up to 15secs. Focussing is quite fast, usually taking only a second to lock onto something, even if it's dark, when the red spotting beam then comes into play.
When using the zoom images are reasonably sharp at the telephoto end, though they tend to distort at the wide angle end. Like the A640, shadow areas, in pictures with high contrast, tend to show noise and images are fairly bitty in general. The detail level in telephoto shots is admirable though. There's colour fringing on transitions from dark objects to light areas, with a blue tinge when it does light-dark and a red one on dark-light transitions. Image quality therefore, is okay, but not great. The A710 IS also tends to renders red a little more brightly than reality, but this also means that skin tones come out nice and healthy, so if you anticipate taking pictures of the family with the camera, then it will work out well.
There's some colour fringing on this shot, but not a lot and although -2EV was required to hold the sky, adjusting the Levels afterwards brought the ground back up. There's noise in the shadow areas and the grass is a bit sludgy.
Using the 6x optical zoom, the image stabilisation helps keep a shot on a murky day in focus. There is good sharpness here on the telephoto end, and while there is colour fringing on the main verticals of the bridge, it isn't too bad.
There's some noise in the shadow areas but the tones are generally consistent and healthy looking. The AWB has added a blue cast from the natural light, but curiously this isn't as significant as on the A640 test shot.
Red and cyan are brighter than they should be, but this will result in healthy skin tones and bluer skies. The mixtures are all pretty accurate and orange and yellow are fine. A better outcome than the A640.
While flash tends to flatten images, it can also be more flattering than shooting in natural light that's angled. Here, it fills in the shadow areas and while this does make it a little flat, it's retain the skin colour well and given a more pleasing result.
Exposure compensation was used to ensure the church itself came out well. The sky was a mercilous, overpowering grey. The colours of the 10th century Saxon tower have been rendered very well considering the dull light.
The ISO80 test is nice and clean, as is ISO100. Artefacts start to appear at ISO200 and the image is slightly darker, but this is of no concern. At ISO400 the noise suddenly becomes much more apparent and the shade of red is darker, but not appreciably. ISO800 is more noisy, and is very noticeable, but at least the sharpness is not affected.
The A710 IS offers something of a middle ground in terms of functionality. The 6x optical zoom is nice, but it's not a really telling feature, just good to have, and the image stabilisation works well with it. The resolution is good, but other in this kind of price range are now offering slightly more at 8Mp. Then again, for a compact, 7Mp is plenty and more is just overkill. The camera does offer a good deal of photographic control, even though the image quality is little better than average, and it only shoots sRGB
However, it handles very well, and it's small and pocket sized, starts up reasonably quickly and can be used in situations where an unobtrusive camera is required. For portraits, the various flash options are all good, enabling pleasing results with a little effort.
While there isn't one single USP of the 710 that will have you racing for the shops, it's the combination of good handling, a raft of useful features and flexibility that makes it a worthy purchase. Plus points:
Lots of colour modes
6x optical zoom
1cm macro mode Negative points:
Not great range of exposure compensation