The Powershot A470 is Canon's replacement for last year's A460, the bargain end of their well-respected A-Series line. A-Series cameras have long been Canon's bread and butter: compact but robust performers that offer a wide range of options, solid quality, and easy operation at a typically low price. So, let's see what this latest scrapper can do!
Operation and Interface
Overall, I was quite pleased with the A470's responsiveness and ease of operation. It starts up more quickly than most cameras in its class, meaning that it will probably be ready to shoot before you are. Without flash, shot-to-shot time is actually pretty snappyyou should be able to fire off several shots in under two seconds in continuous drive mode. The increase in shot-to-shot time when using flash is noticeable, but no worse than average for cameras in this class.
Owing to its somewhat archaic, bricklike shape, the camera is very easy to operate singlehanded. The power button is on top, just to the left of the shutter release, while on the back side of the camera you'll find a four-way control pad, a Function/Set button, a Menu button, and a Print button that the user can conveniently assign to a wide variety of custom functions.
As with most compact cameras, the buttons on the A470 often have multiple functions. This setup is somewhat unintuitive at times, and users will find that they often have to navigate through several sub-menus to make what should be quick adjustments. Just one example: when using Scene Mode my natural inclination was to use the left and right buttons on the 4-way controller to scroll through the available scene modes. Unfortunately, as I found time and again, the left and right buttons control macro and flash settings respectively. To change the selected scene mode, you need to enter the Function menu and make your selection from a submenu there. This is a minor complaint, however, and something that will become second nature over time.
Middle of the Road
The A470 seems to shoot for the middle of the performance and features spectrum in nearly all regards. In terms of specifications, it's as standard as it gets in the budget compact class: 7.1-megapixel sensor, 3.4x optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD screen, and some limited manual adjustment options. The photos the camera produces with default settings are well-exposed, though somewhat flat-looking, and tend to exhibit a bit too much blue and green saturation.
The 3.4x optical zoom lens covers a focal range of about 38-132mm in film camera terms. This isn't wide enough for great crowd or landscape shots, or long enough for bird watching or moon shots. That said, the overall image sharpness in the range it does cover is quite good, and there is surprisingly little softness at the corners and edges of shots.
The camera also offers a "Super Macro" mode that allows the lens to focus on subjects that are nearly touching the glass. This is a very useful mode that works perfectly, and gives the average user the ability to get some fantastic detail shots with very little work.
Manual exposure controls are quite limited. Though the camera offers a "Manual" mode, it's really more of a Program Auto modeall that it offers in the way of manual adjustments are ISO (Auto, Hi, and 80-1600), white balance (including custom), and exposure compensation (-2 to +2). There are no shutter speed or aperture adjustments. This is par for the course for cameras in this price range, but it would have been nice to see some wiggle room for more adventurous amateur photographers.
Canon has added several extra features to the barebones A470, most of them aimed squarely at casual photographers. Most important are the new and improved Face Detection and Motion Detection functions, which attempt to lock on to and track human faces and moving objects. As you can imagine, this is quite useful for tracking children, sports players, and the like. I can report that as long as the lighting is good, these functions work wonderfully and really are a huge help in capturing an elusive subject like a young child. In dim light, however, I wouldn't bank on them working as advertised.
Also included and very useful for many users, the A470 offers a date stamp option. This option is limited to 2-megapixel captures, but that should be more than enough resolution for 4 x 6-inch prints or emailing and computer screen viewing. A much-requested feature that often went missing on entry-level digitals, it's nice to see it here.
Bumps in the Middle of the Road
The areas where Canon has cut corners to keep costs down are immediately apparent. For instance, where slightly more expensive A-Series cameras offer optical image stabilization, the A470 offers a high-ISO mode that attempts to accomplish the same effect via software. This occasionally works as advertised, but it's not effective nearly as often as optical stabilization. Moreover, in most shots it results in much higher image noise.
While large, the camera's 2.5-inch LCD screen is fairly low-resolution (115,00 pixels), meaning that it lacks detail, and it also suffers from high image noise and an extremely low framerate in dim light. More importantly, it lacks the contrast and brightness to be of much use in direct sunlight. Like many other cameras in its price range, the A470 doesn't include an optical viewfinder. This makes composing outdoor shots on sunny days very tricky.
Another stumbling block is the unusually high level of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) produced when shooting in bright sunlight. This was a major problem with cheaper point & shoot cameras several years ago but looked to have been curbed in recent modelsunfortunately it's quite bad with the A470, particularly with the lens at its widest zoom setting. Lens flare and ghosting are also readily visible when shooting in bright sunlight.
Finally, focusing can be a bit hit and miss, whether using 9-point AiAF or Center AF modes. This is a particularly annoying problem when focusing on subjects closer to the lens, and subjects in dim light. What's most frustrating is that the camera often appears to have properly focused on the subject, drawing the familiar green box around the subject and snapping away. Reviewing the photo later on reveals that the background is in sharp focus while the subject is blurred beyond recognition. With practice this can be avoided, but the low-resolution LCD screen makes such problems difficult to detect on the fly.
The keyword for this review is "considering"as in, "considering how cheap this camera is, it's quite the performer." The styling is outdated and utilitarian (despite some attempts to spice things up with color accents on the casing), there are no manual controls, and the camera's corners are cut to the quick. Lay down a few more bills and you can easily find a camera with optical image stabilization, a longer zoom, and manual exposure controls. But considering its class and limitations, the A470 is a steal and perhaps an ideal solution for a youngster wanting to cultivate an interest in photography or to an adult who just wants to get the job done without a lot of fuss.