|The Canon A80 is the latest model in the long line
of Canon digital cameras released over the past year or so. As a successor to the popular 3.3 megapixel A70 it features all the good things of the previous model plus a few new features, not
least of which is the rotating LCD monitor which makes it possible to capture images from almost any angle. The Canon A80 comes with a 4 megapixel sensor, the same one as used in the Ixus 400
with a resolution of 2272 x 1704 pixels. The best thing about the new Canon A80 is that, apart from fully automatic program mode, it offers a large array of manual options to provide more
advanced photographers with lots of possibilities to be creative.
There seems to be a trend at the moment for fully automatic models, that can be used by a complete novice and deliver perfect pictures, but who at the same time offer various manual
settings to satisfy the advanced photographer. We think this is a good development as it can stimulate newcomers to take their photography more seriously. Since as soon as they have passed the
snap shooters phase, they then have the possibility to be more adventurous in their photography without necessarily having to fork out a lot of cash for yet another new model. This sort of
camera can provide a seamless transition to what may become a fascinating hobby. And of course this is good for camera manufacturers as dedicated photographers are bound to spend more cash and
buy more advanced models or further accessories as their hobby progresses. The Canon A80 however will keep you in the picture for quite some time though, as there are loads of features to
explore and try out before you outgrow this one.
Using the camera
The ergonomics of the mid-sized Canon A80 are good. The chunky handgrip on the right provides ample support to use the camera with one hand should you desire to do so. Like most Canon
cameras the Canon A80 is built like the proverbial brick, using a mixture of plastic and metal on the outside. In fact the Canon A80's appearance is almost identical to its predecessor the A70, especially
when looking at it from the front. Inside it is a completely different story though, as there are quite a few worthwhile improvements over the older model. The larger 4 megapixel CCD delivers
a maximum resolution of 2272 x 1704 which is easily good enough for prints of 10 x 12 inches and even a bit larger. The nine point AiAF system coupled to the already legendary DIGIC processor
and crisp 3x zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 - f4.9, ensures quality images with exceptional detail and true colours.
Compared to general purpose CPUs as found in other digital cameras, Canon's exclusive DIGIC processor combines the job of image processing and camera control in one chip, handling nearly
every camera function from JPG compression to auto focus, exposure, white balance control and most other in-camera functions. What it delivers is improved image quality and increased camera
responsiveness and image processing speeds, coupled to faster and more powerful AF and longer battery life.
Powering on the camera takes around three seconds. Shutter delay is short and almost non-existent, especially if you pre-focus the camera by pressing the shutter button halfway. After
capturing an image, the camera is ready to take the next shot in less than 2 seconds. The Canon A80 has some extra features which make capturing images that more comfortable. One of these is
the intelligent orientation sensor, which detects whether a photo is taken in portrait or landscape format and automatically shows the image the right way up. The rotating LCD monitor, which
although quite small at 1,5 inches, allows you to hold the camera at waist (or ground) level for unobtrusive snaps or shooting above your head over a crowd. It also lets you control the
composition when taking portraits that include the photographer, as you can point it forward to check exactly what will be included.
Compared to other Canon cameras the LCD's resolution is quite low at 67K pixels and its brightness cannot be adjusted, but in normal use we did not find this a problem at all. In playback
mode images can be enlarged up to 10 times, which makes assessing image detail well possible. Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which lacks a diopter correction but is a good
size and gives a clear view even when wearing glasses. It covers about 82% of the image area as compared to the LCD which shows almost 100%.
All controls are well positioned so they are not accidentally activated. At the top of the camera is the main command dial that is divided into three zones. The green Auto setting is for
point-and-shoot operation where the camera controls all settings. Turning the Program dial clockwise takes you to the Creative Zone for Portrait, Landscape and Night scene, together with Slow
and Fast shutter settings. Rotating the dial anti-clockwise brings you to the Image Zone where you can opt for Program AE, Shutter or Aperture priority, full Manual or the two custom settings
(C1 and C2), which can store your personal camera settings. The dial feels solid and all choices are determined by a positive click. On top of the chunky handgrip that houses the four AA
batteries, is the shutter release with the zoom control around it. This works very conveniently as you can zoom in or out without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder.
There are three metering modes. Apart from Evaluative metering, which links the metering area to one of the nine AF points, there are Spot and Centre-weighted metering. Although the
camera's standard setting in most program modes would be Evaluative metering, "old school" photographers may still prefer good old Centre-weighted metering. In this mode it is much easier to
influence the camera's exposure settings, because the emphasis is very much on a large area in the centre of the image. If for instance there is a lot of blank sky in the image its effect on
the exposure can be easily corrected by pointing the camera downwards a little to exclude the sky when setting the exposure before recomposing the image. With Evaluative metering, although
remarkably accurate in most situations, you never know exactly what the camera is evaluating, so it is much more difficult to know when you need to overrule the camera's exposure settings.
With the camera are 4 Alkaline batteries which are OK if you plan to use the camera occasionally. However if you intend to do some serious picture taking, your best choice would be to buy
some high capacity NiMh rechargeables straight away. Once these are in place, they seem to last forever. Canon cameras are generally quite power efficient and the Canon A80 is no exception in this
case. Canon claim 675 images can be captured with their set of 1600 NiMh batteries, with 50% LCD use. Even if you plan to use the LCD all the time, we think about 300 images between recharges
should well be possible.
The camera's built-in flash has the usual settings including slow sync flash and red-eye reduction. In full Manual mode however, there is the added possibility to adjust flash output in
three settings - low, medium or high. This allows more control over balancing flash output with ambient light. A rather nice touch is that there is no pre-flash in Manual mode, so the camera
flash can be used to trigger a conventional second flashlight or studio flash if you require extra light.
Focusing range is from 1.5 feet to infinity. In macro mode it is possible to get as close as 2 inches at wide angle, which makes it possible to completely fill the frame with an object of 2
by 1.5 inches. The AF assist light which doubles up as the red-eye reduction light, makes a worthwhile addition as it is quite effective when focusing in low light conditions.
In the box
This Canon Powershot A80 is sold with all the usual extras. Naturally Canon include a wrist strap, USB and AV cables. There is a 32Mb Compact Flash card, which is too small for serious photography anyway
since you can barely store 10 images in its highest resolution. Four alkaline batteries are included and a comprehensive 214 page printed manual.
Software comprises Canon's Digital Solutions Disk V14 together with Arcsoft Camera Suite 1.2 and a printed software guide. Our test model also came with Sandisk's Rescue Pro data recovery
disk, which can be used to retrieve data from corrupted memory cards. We are not sure if this disk will be included in the original bundle as our tests were carried out with a pre-production
model. It would make a worthwhile extra though.
It is interesting to see how Zoom Browser, Canon's familiar imaging programme has developed through the years. It has grown from a rather basic - and not very user friendly - imaging
programme to a much more advanced product that now offers many worthwhile extras. Today it is possible to use Zoom Browser not only as a clearly set out database for all your digital photos
but you can also search for your favourite images by setting certain parameters to make locating them much easier. You can search images by date or you can assign keywords to them. Very handy
if you want to locate, say all images of your kids when they were three or if you want to recall what your holiday in Austria was like two years ago. The programme now really offers a host of
useful functions to keep most users satisfied.
Apart from a quality set of rechargeable batteries and a larger memory card, which are arguably absolutely essential if you plan to take lots of photos, there are quite a number of
accessories available to fit this Canon A80. By pressing the button below the lens, the dress ring is removed and you can then attach the optional LA-DC52C conversion lens adapter. This is the
base fitting onto which Canon's WC-DC52 0.7x wide angle or TC-DC52 2.4x tele converter lenses will fit, or any 52mm filters or lenses for that matter.
Looking at the images from our test we can conclude that this Canon again delivers the excellent image quality that we have come to expect from this manufacturer. Colour is excellent with
accurate results in virtually all pictures. Not overly saturated but nice and neutral although reds and blues are quite strong. Skin tones are natural and true. White balance did a good job in
most conditions, although under incandescent or fluorescent light it was necessary to select the appropriate setting from the function menu, as the camera's auto setting could not quite manage
to deliver true results all the time.
With the choice of three metering options the Canon A80 comes prepared to handle all situations. However we found it was hardly ever necessary to switch from evaluative metering to one of the
other settings as the camera did a perfect job and exposed all our images with great accuracy. Even in high contrast scenes there was enough detail in shadow areas without washing out the
Optical distortion of Canon's 7.8 to 23.4mm f2.8-4.9 3x zoom lens (38-114 mm eq.) was slightly less than average at wide angle while there was no visible distortion at the tele end in our
images. Chromatic aberration was barely noticeable and sharpness was good across the range. Arguably this lens is not in the same league as the one used on the Canon G3 or G5, but it delivers
a good performance for this class of camera and is quite adequate for enlargements of up to 11 x 14 inches.
We have found this Canon A80 to be a very versatile camera. This was largely due to the wide range of manual exposure modes, which made it possible to use our creativity to the full. It
offers excellent image quality at an affordable price. The swivelling LCD monitor is a nice enhancement, which makes it ideal for capturing candid shots, while the two custom exposure modes
allow you to save your favourite settings to be available at the turn of a button without the need to consult the camera menu.
Best of all this camera would be perfect for both the novice who requires a fully automatic camera and for the experienced user who wants full manual control over exposure and other
settings. Coupled to the excellent image quality this camera delivers, could this really be the perfect buy? Shame about the plastic tripod mount though . . .