Canon PowerShot A800 review

AA battery-powered, retro-style compact for novices
Photo of Canon PowerShot A800
£90

Bulkier than most digital compact cameras and with a child-proof look about it, Canon’s new PowerShot A800 is aimed at handbag amateurs and folk who are purely interested in cheap digital photography. The good news is that it meets that brief with aplomb – and more besides – though it certainly won’t suit everyone.

Old-school, still cool
With the summer holidays almost upon us, what caught our eye initially was this point-and-shoot product’s AA-battery powered design. Now that really is retro – though in a positive way. Superbly judged for those heading off on treks, or even on a posh safari where mains electricity just isn’t available, we’ve always thought the humble AA battery is the perfect option for digital cameras.

OK, so it’s wasteful if you ditch a couple of empties every few days, but rechargeable AA cells are easily obtained and replenished using two-input USB wall plugs that cost just a couple of quid. And if you don’t have mains power to plug it into, standard non-rechargeable AA batteries are available pretty much everywhere.

Sadly Canon doesn’t supply any rechargeable batteries – or, indeed, a recharger; just a couple of Panasonic-made AAs. But it’s the thought that counts.

The requisite battery compartment does cause a bulge in the camera, but this adds some grip to the design that slimmer cameras lack. Elsewhere, the A800′s spec continues its ‘fashionably retro’ them by using a 10.1-megapixel sensor – lower resolution than many on the market, but more than enough for most users of this kind of camera.

Not so welcome is the 2.5in LCD preview screen which, in the absence of any viewfinder, is simply too small to judge compositions accurately, while in the midday sun it’s even more difficult to inspect.

A bit bulky
Measuring a chunky 94x31x62mm (wdh), the A800 weighs in at 186g – considerably more than most compact cameras, and another reason why cameras using AA batteries virtually disappeared from the market several years ago.

Another features almost extinct among cameras at this price is a true, optical zoom – so it’s good to see a 3.3x zoom on offer on the A800. Digital zoom takes this up to 13x, though all this does is digitally enlarge a portion of the frame without adding any additional detail, so we wouldn’t recommend ever using it. The biggest absence on the A800 is image stabilisation, which could cause problems with blur.

Simplicity itself
The interface of the A800 is simplicity itself – as it needs to be, on a camera like this. Quick to work and easy to understand, the camera’s basic functions are presented cleanly on the LCD screen’s left-hand side – ISO (up to 1600), automatic white balance options (an impressive five different options), colour presets (Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White or Custom), single/continuous shot, focus (spot, centre-weighted or evaluative) and resolution (10M, 6M, 2M, 0.3M or a hi-res widescreen option).

Elsewhere there are dedicated controls for toggling between macro, normal and infinity modes, flash options, self-timer and exposure levels – the latter something of a surprise although the camera takes care of shutter speeds.

A button sporting a camera and camcorder icon is slightly misleading, but in a good way; this is where the A800 can be put into full auto mode, program mode, scene, or video.
Scenes include the usual beach, foliage, snow, sunset, fireworks, and so on, while this menu also includes vague options for a ‘long’ shutter speed, low light and blur reduction, the last two of which take the resolution down to two megapixels.

Most cameras – even those costing less than £100 – now shoot in HD, so to find that the A800 only manages 640×480 standard definition is disappointing. Although it’s not possible to use the optical zoom during filming, its position can be set beforehand (digital zoom is activated up to 12x).

The flash (with red-eye lamp) is great to have, though in our tests it took an annoying six seconds to charge – a drawback of using batteries, you might say, though it recharged and was ready to be used again a mere four seconds. That’s all just on the right side of acceptable, as is the A800′s performance in our longevity test; it managed 314 shots before draining those AA batteries.

While using the A800, the camera’s internal clock suddenly went back by 10 weeks for some unknown reason, which kind of messed up the order of our snaps.

Point-and-shoot test
In keeping with the way the A800 is intended to be used, we pointed it and shot – and were reasonably happy with the results.

Fast-moving shots are not this camera’s strongpoint (cue some blurry shots of fidgety people) and the autofocus doesn’t always behave – but what we did love about the A800 is its pictures’ lack of digital noise.
Even from low light conditions images are sharper than we had expected, while in bright sunlight it produced images that were rarely burned-out.

It’s a different story with video; the resulting AVI file isn’t exactly polished, with a lot of picture noise and an innate softness, though the A800′s bulk makes it far easier to keep steady by hand than many models.

Company: Canon

Website: http://www.canon.co.uk/

Contact: Canon on 01737 220000

Positives
  • Battery-powered; easy to operate; reliable pictures.
Negative
  • Too big for a shirt pocket; some blur; poor video.

Verdict

Although the A800's list price is a touch optimistic - we're sure it will be hugely discounted soon - Canon's latest will be a welcome addition to the shortlist for those on a budget.

An increasingly rare thing even in the budget market, this back-to-basics camera from a trusted brand eschews fancy tech in favour of core, even old-fashioned features; a reassuringly chunky build quality, AA batteries, and an interface that's as easy to use as any digital camera we've seen.

The PowerShot A800 is about as versatile as you'd expect at this price - that is to say, not very - but its good value image quality is enough to convince us that this point-and-shooter for novices is a well-judged, well-made product that deserves to do well.