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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A630/A640  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 24, 2006
Last Updated: December 31, 2011

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The PowerShot A630 and A640 are two lower priced cameras that offer the manual controls and expandability usually reserved for more expensive cameras. Both cameras feature 4X zoom lens, a rotating 2.5" LCD display, a VGA movie mode, and unlimited continuous shooting.

There's a $100 price difference between the A630 and A640 -- what does that buy you? The A640 has two million more pixels, support for remote capture, and a charcoal gray body. Oh, and a slightly larger bundled memory card, too. Of course, the higher resolution A640 also has a slower burst rate and larger file sizes than the A630, so keep that in mind.

The chart below compares the various A-series cameras:

Feature PowerShot A530 PowerShot A540 PowerShot A630 PowerShot A640 PowerShot A710 IS
Street price
(at time of posting)
$152 $194 $270 $408 $362
Resolution 5.0 MP 6.0 MP 8.0 MP 10.0 MP 7.1 MP
Optical zoom 4X 4X 4X 4X 6X
Lens max. aperture F2.6 - F5.5 F2.6 - F5.5 F2.8 - F4.1 F2.8 - F4.1 F2.8 - F4.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 210 mm
Image stabilization No No No No Yes
LCD size 1.8" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5"
Rotating LCD? No No Yes Yes No
Manual focus point selection No No Yes Yes Yes
Supports conversion lenses? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Supports underwater case? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Supports Remote Capture No No No Yes No
Battery used AA (2) AA (2) AA (4) AA (4) AA (2)
Battery life with 2500 mAh batteries (CIPA standard) 360 shots 360 shots 500 shots 500 shots 360 shots

Hopefully that clears up any confusion that you might have about the numerous models in the PowerShot A-series.

In this review I'll be looking at the A630 and A640 at the same time. I'll be using the latter as the "model" for all the product shots. I will have test photos for each of the cameras.

Ready to learn more about these two cameras? Our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A630 and A640 have average bundles. Inside their respective boxes you'll find the following:

  • The 8.0 or 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot A630 or A640 digital camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card [A630 only]
  • 32MB Secure Digital card [A640 only]
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 33 page basic manual + 145 page advanced manual (both printed)

Depending on which camera you bought, you'll either get a 16MB or 32MB in the box. Both of those are far too small for the resolution of their respective camera, so you'll want to buy a larger card right away. The A630 and A640 can use SD, MMC, and the new, high capacity SDHC cards, and I recommend a 1GB card as a good starter size. A high speed card (60X or better) is recommended to get the most out of the camera.

Like the A610 and A620 that they replace, the A630 and A640 use four AA batteries. Canon puts alkalines in the box, which will quickly find their way into the trash. Thus, you should pick up a set or two of NiMH rechargeables and a fast charger, which will last longer than alkalines, and they're better for the environment too. Here's how the cameras compare to similar models in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot A630/A640 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot A710 IS 360 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot G7 220 shots NB-2LH
Fuji FinePix F31fd 580 shots NP-95
HP Photosmart R967 160 shots R07
Kodak EasyShare C875 250 shots 2 x Unknown NiMH
Nikon Coolpix L5 250 shots 2 x 2000 mAh NiMH
Olympus FE-200 290 shots LI-12B
Olympus Stylus 740 200 shots LI-42B
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 * 390 shots 2 x Unknown NiMH
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100 360 shots NP-BG1

* Number not obtained using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

If it wasn't for that darn FinePix F31fd, the A630/A640 would have the best battery life in their class. Despite not quite being #1, this duo is still well above average.

As you may know, I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. These batteries are much cheaper than the $50 lithium-ion batteries used by other cameras -- plus you can buy off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables die.

There's a built-in lens cover on the A630 and A640, so there's no clumsy lens cap to worry about. As you can see, these are fairly bulky cameras.

Like all cameras in the PowerShot A-series, the A630/A640 have plenty of accessories available. They include:

Accessory Model Price* Why you want it
Wide-angle lens WC-DC58N From $119 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.7X to 24.5 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens TC-DC58N From $93 Boosts focal range by 1.75X to 245 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC58F From $17 Required for conversion lenses; threaded for 58 mm filters as well
External slave flash HF-DC1 From $81 Boosts flash range and reduces redeye; since it's a slave flash, the DC1 fires when the onboard flash does
Waterproof case WP-DC8 From $170 Take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
AC adapter ACK600 From $41 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Rechargeable battery kit CBK4-300 From $34 Includes four 2500 mAh batteries and a charger
* Prices were accurate when review was written

Pretty impressive selection!


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 29 of their Digital Camera Solution software package with the PowerShot A630/A640. The main applications are the ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser "twins" that come with all PowerShot models. ImageBrowser is for the Mac, while ZoomBrowser is for Windows PCs. The Mac version is not Universal (Intel native), so it's not as fast as it could be.

After you download photos via the CameraWindow application, you'll end up with the screen above, which has a standard-issue thumbnail view. Photos can be organized, printed, and e-mailed from this screen.

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve.


MovieEdit task (Mac OS X)

The MovieEdit task lets you take your movie clips, add effects and transitions, and then save the results as a single movie.


RemoteCapture task (Mac OS X)

If you get the A640 then you can use the RemoteCapture task, which lets you control the camera from your Mac or PC. You can adjust any of the camera settings, and the photos are saved directly to your computer's hard drive. Again, this feature is for the A640 only!


PhotoStitch (Mac OS X)

A separate program known as PhotoStitch is used to put the photos you took in the Stitch Assist mode into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see.

The documentation for the A630 and A640 are divided into several parts. You get a basic manual to get you up and running, and a more detailed advanced manual for more complex camera features. There are also separate books for direct printing and software. None of these manuals will win awards for their layout or user friendliness, but they will answer every possible question you might have about your camera.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot A630 and A640 look almost exactly like their predecessors, the A610 and A620. They're midsize, somewhat bulky cameras that are made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and they feel pretty solid for the most part. The large right hand grip makes it easy to hold the cameras, and the important controls are well placed.

Now, here's how the two A-series cameras compare against other midsize cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot A620 4.1 x 2.6 x 1.9 in. 20.3 cu in. 235 g
Canon PowerShot A630 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.9 in. 21.2 cu in. 245 g
Canon PowerShot A640 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.9 in. 21.2 cu in. 245 g
Canon PowerShot A710 IS 3.8 x 2.6 x 1.6 in. 15.8 cu in. 210 g
Canon PowerShot G7 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.7 in. 20 cu in. 320 g
Fujifilm FinePix A700 3.7 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 10.7 cu in. 139 g
Fujifilm FinePix F31fd 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 8.7 cu in. 156 g
HP Photosmart R967 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.1 cu in. 170 g
Kodak EasyShare C875 3.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 12.6 cu in. 177 g
Nikon Coolpix L5 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.8 in. 15.6 cu in. 170 g
Olympus FE-200 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 10.3 cu in. 155 g
Olympus Stylus 740 3.8 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 8 cu in. 140 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.8 in. 16.8 cu in. 186 g
Samsung Digimax S1000 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 10.3 cu in. 169 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100 3.7 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 8.9 cu in. 161 g

The A630/A640 are a little bigger than their predecessors due to the larger LCD screen that you'll see in a moment. In the group as a whole, these two cameras are as big as they come. They're not pocket cameras, but they won't burden you when carried in a camera bag or purse.

Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning with the front. Remember, I'm using the A640 as the "model" for these shots.

The A630 and A640 have the same F2.8-4.1, 4X optical zoom lens as their predecessors. The focal range of the lens is 7.3 - 29.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 140 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can remove that ring around the lens by pushing the button to its lower right. With the ring removed, you can attach the optional conversion lens adapter, followed by the conversion lens or 58 mm filter of your choice.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash range is unchanged since the A610/A620: it's 0.45 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.45 - 3.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want a more powerful flash then you should consider the optional slave flash that I mentioned earlier. Since it's a slave flash, it fires when the onboard flash does -- it doesn't sync with the camera in any way.

To the left of the flash is the optical viewfinder, with the AF-assist/self-timer lamp to the left of that. The AF-assist lamp is used as a focusing aid in low light situations.

Under the Canon logo you'll find the microphone.

One of the big selling points on these two cameras is their rotating LCD display. The screen size on the A630 and A640 has been bumped from 2.0" to 2.5", making these the largest flip-out/rotating LCDs you can buy. The screen can rotate 270 degrees, from facing your subject to staring at the floor. It can also be put in the "traditional" position (see below), or closed entirely.

Why do you want a rotating LCD? I find that it comes in really handy in several situations, such as shooting over a crowd, taking ground-level shots, or if you're trying to be "stealthy" and take a photo without your subject knowing.

While the screen size has gotten larger, the resolution has not. The LCD on both cameras has just 115,000 pixels, which isn't much (Canon's SD800 has 207,000 pixels on its LCD). What this means in the real world is that the images on the screen aren't as sharp as they could be -- though most people probably won't notice. I found the screen to be easy to see in both bright outdoor light and dimly lit rooms. In the second situation, the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.

Directly above the LCD is an optical viewfinder of average size. It doesn't have an diopter correction, though, which is what you'd use to focus what you're looking at.

To the upper-right of the LCD we find the record/playback mode switch, with the exposure compensation/delete photo and Print/Share buttons below that. The exposure compensation feature has the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments range.

When connected to a compatible photo printer, just press the Print/Share button and the selected image will be printed. When you connect to a Mac or PC, you can transfer photos (in numerous ways), and even set your computer's desktop background -- right from the camera.

Below those buttons is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, selecting manual exposure settings, and also:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, flash off) + Jump (quickly move back or forward through photos in playback mode)
  • Down - Focus (Auto, macro, manual) - see below
  • Center - Function / Set - see below


Manual focus (center frame enlargement not shown)

In manual focus mode you'll use the left and right directions on the four-way controller to adjust the focus distance. A guide showing the distance is shown on the top of the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can make sure that your subject is in focus.


Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu. This menu has the following options:

  • ISO speed (Auto, High ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800) - see below
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, underwater, custom) - see below
  • Drive (Single-shot, continuous, self-timer [2 or 10 sec, custom] - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) - in manual mode you can adjust the flash strength in three steps (1/3, 2/3, full)
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

As with most of Canon's 2006 cameras, there are two Auto ISO modes to choose from on the PowerShot A630 and A640. The difference between the two is that the High ISO Auto mode will boost the sensitivity higher than the regular Auto mode. This lets you use a faster shutter speed, which will result in sharper photos. The catch is that your photo will be on the noisy side. I'll have more on the both cameras' ISO performance later in the review.

The custom white balance mode (one of many manual controls of these cameras) lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting. This will come in handy when you're shooting in unusual lighting condition, like I do in many of the test shots later in the review.

The A630 and A640 both have nice continuous shooting modes, though the former can shoot faster, since it's taking photos with a lower resolution. The A630 can keep shooting at 1.8 frames/second until your memory card is full, assuming that you're using a high speed card. While a bit slower, the A640's 1.5 frame/second burst rate is no slouch either. It too can keep shooting until you run out of memory. The LCD on both cameras keeps up fairly well with the action, with just a very brief blackout between shots.

The My Colors options are the same as those on Canon's other recent cameras. Everything up there should be self-explanatory, except for the custom color option. This lets you adjust the contrast, sharpness, and saturation from 1-5, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels. I'll talk about two other My Colors features -- Color Swap and Color Accent -- a bit later.

Below the four-way controller we have two more buttons. The Display button turns the LCD on and off, and also toggles what is shown on it. And, as you might expect, the Menu button opens the menu system.

Let's move on to the top of the camera now. First up is the power button, which has the mode dial next to it. The options on the mode dial include:

Option Function
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2500 sec; do note that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at small apertures
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range is F2.8 - F8.0
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above
Custom mode Quickly access your favorite camera settings
Movie mode More on this later
Stitch Assist Helps you line up photos for later stitching into panoramas
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater, color accent, and color swap. See below for more on these last two.
Night Scene More commonly used scene modes
Landscape
Portrait

Like most of the other A-series cameras, the A630 and A640 have full manual controls. In addition, this duo has a "custom" spot on the mode dial, in which you can store your favorite camera settings for easy retrieval.


Color Accent (from the SD800 IS)


Color Swap (lots of red tape)

The other two My Colors features on the A630 and A640 are Color Accent and Color Swap. The Color Accent feature lets you select a color to highlight, and then all the other colors are turned to black and white. Color Swap does just as it sounds -- it swaps one color for another (though not terribly well).

The zoom controller, which wraps around the shutter release, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds. I counted nine steps in the 4X zoom range. Something that drives me nuts about these two cameras (as well as some other Canons) is that the current zoom position is not shown on the LCD. That seems like pretty useful information to me!

The only thing worth mentioning on this side of the A630/A640 is the hinge for the rotating LCD.

On the opposite side you'll find the I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic cover. The include A/V out, USB, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The A630 and A640 support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

By the way, the lens is at the full telephoto position here.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find the battery and memory card compartment plus a plastic tripod mount (boo!). The door covering the battery/memory compartment is of average quality. You cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

Using the Canon PowerShot A630/A640

Record Mode

It takes about 1.2 seconds for the two cameras to extend their respective lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's pretty snappy.


No live histogram to be found

While not spectacular by any means, the A630 and A640 focused quickly and reliably. Typical focus times were between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds, with longer waits if the camera had to "hunt" a bit. I found low light focusing to be very good, thanks to the AF-assist lamp found on each of the cameras.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Both of the cameras had similar shot-to-shot speeds, despite the difference in resolution. You'll want a little over a second before you can take another photo.

You can delete the photo you just took by pressing the delete photo button on the back of the camera.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available the cameras. I'll start with the A630 first:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 16MB card
(included)
# images on 1GB card (optional)
Large
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 4 278
Fine 2.0 MB 7 462
Normal 980 KB 14 958
Wide (16:9)
3264 x 1832
Superfine 2.5 MB 5 366
Fine 1.5 MB 9 614
Normal 736 KB 20 1284
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 5 380
Fine 1.4 MB 10 678
Normal 695 KB 21 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 9 590
Fine 893 KB 16 1058
Normal 445 KB 33 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 14 942
Fine 558 KB 26 1678
Normal 278 KB 50 3180
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 56 3554
Fine 150 KB 88 5494
Normal 84 KB 138 8634

Okay, now here's the chart for the A640:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
# images on 1GB card (optional)
Large
3648 x 2736
Superfine 4.0 MB 7 232
Fine 2.4 MB 12 388
Normal 1.1 MB 25 804
Wide (16:9)
3648 x 2048
Superfine 2.5 MB 9 314
Fine 1.8 MB 16 594
Normal 874 KB 34 1078
Middle 1
2816 x 2112
Superfine 2.7 MB 10 352
Fine 1.6 MB 18 584
Normal 780 KB 38 1206
Middle 2
2272 x 1704
Superfine 2.0 MB 14 474
Fine 1.1 MB 27 850
Normal 556 KB 53 1678
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 30 942
Fine 558 KB 53 1678
Normal 278 KB 102 3180
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 114 3554
Fine 150 KB 177 5494
Normal 84 KB 278 8634

There's an additional resolution setting for both cameras known as "postcard". This has the same 1600 x 1200 resolution as Middle 3, with the added ability to put the date on your photo. Why Canon can't allow this at every resolution is beyond me.

There's no support for the RAW or TIFF image formats on the A630 or A640.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The A630 and A640 use the standard Canon menu system. While not flashy, the menus are attractive and easy to navigate. Do note that some of these options aren't available in the automatic or scene modes. And with that, here's the full record menu list:

  • AF Frame (AiAF, center, FlexiZone) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.6X/1.4X, 2.0X/2.3X, Standard) - see below
  • Flash sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what area of the frame is metered when in spot metering mode
  • Safety shift (on/off)
  • MF-Point Zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Save Original (on/off) - for the My Colors feature
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether the image on the LCD is flipped when the screen points toward your subject
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - print the date on your photo -- in postcard mode only!
  • Save settings - saves current settings to the "C" spot on the mode dial

The FlexiZone AF mode lets you use the four-way controller to select a focus point. You can choose anywhere in the frame, save for a margin around the edges. If you'd rather have the camera select the focus point for you, you can choose from 9-point or center-point AF as well.

The A630 and A640 have Canon's "new" digital zoom feature. There are fixed digital zoom settings for each camera (1.6X/2.0X for the A630 and 1.4X/2.3X for the A640), plus a standard mode that lets you go crazy. A "safety" feature warns you when the digital zoom is about to start reducing image quality. That happens instantly when shooting at the highest resolution, but the lower resolution you can use, the more "safe" digital zoom you can apply.

If you can't get a proper exposure in either of the priority modes, the Safety Shift will adjust the shutter speed or aperture automatically in order to get one.

The setup tab in the menu has the following items:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language (way too many to list)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

An additional "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. The software included with the camera lets you use your own photos and sounds as well. So, if you've ever wanted a chimp theme for your camera, here's your chance. Yes, it's really possible!

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now. Since there are two cameras in this review, I did things a bit differently. Sometimes I used both cameras for a test, other times just one. Here we go!

PowerShot A630 PowerShot A640

Both cameras turned in nice renditions of our macro test subject, though I prefer the A630's more saturated colors (though this is probably due to exposure more than anything). The subject in both photos has the trademark "smooth" Canon look, with no noise to be found. Colors are mostly accurate, though the red cloak in the A640 shot is washed out.

The minimum distance to your subject is the same on both cameras: 1 cm at wide-angle and 25 cm at telephoto.


PowerShot A630


PowerShot A640

The A630 and A640 turned in nearly identical night scenes. The A640 is slightly sharper, but otherwise you'd be hard-pressed to see the difference. Taking in plenty of light isn't a problem with either camera, as they both have manual shutter speed control. Noise levels are reasonable given the resolution of the cameras, and purple fringing was minimal.

Now, the first of the two ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the same night scene you see above. The A630 will go first, followed by its higher resolution brother.

PowerShot A630

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800
 
PowerShot A640

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

Both cameras performed about the same at ISO 80 and 100. At ISO 200 you start to see detail loss on both cameras, though a midsize print isn't out of the question. At ISO 400 we see a bit of a split between the two with, surprisingly, the A640 retaining a bit more detail than its lower resolution sibling. This setting is for small prints only! At ISO 800 there's a lot of "static" in the photo and not much detail left, so I don't think you can do much with these shots.

Our second ISO test -- a bit later -- will show you how the two cameras performed in more "normal" lighting.

There's mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the A630/A640's lens. There's a tiny bit of vignetting in the test chart, and I saw about the same amount of it in a few real world photos. There was a bit of softness in the corners, as well.

Canon's A-series cameras seem to have a problem with redeye, and the A630/A640 are no exception. While your results may vary, odds are that you'd have at least some problem with this annoyance.

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my "studio". You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. Again, I will start with the A630:

PowerShot A630

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800
 
PowerShot A640

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

The A630 and A640 have similar noise levels through ISO 200. At ISO 400 something interesting happens: the 10 Megapixel A640 starts performing better than the 8 Megapixel A630 -- the opposite that you'd expect. The noise reduction system is more effective on the A640, making the image look less grainy (but softer) than on the A630. The same holds true at ISO 800, but this setting is best used for when you're desperate, as it's for small prints only.

Overall, the photos produced by these two cameras were very good. In fact, there wasn't much of a difference between the two (surprise, surprise). Photos were well-exposed, with pleasing, saturated colors and very little noise (assuming an ISO of 200 or less). Like all of Canon's PowerShot cameras, everything is really "smooth-looking", but that doesn't mean soft -- the sharpness levels are just right in my opinion. Purple fringing was minimal.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at the PowerShot A630 and A640 photo galleries, and print a few photos as if they were your own. Then you should be able to decide if these cameras meet your photo quality expectations.

Movie Mode

The A630 and A640's movie mode is the same as it was on the A610/A620. You can record VGA video (with sound) at 30 frames/second until either the memory card fills up, or the movie file size reaches 1GB (which takes just eight minutes). If you want longer high res movies then you'll need to pony up for the PowerShot G7, which can record for over thirty minutes. Do note that you will need a high speed memory card for the high quality movie mode on the A630/A640.

To stretch out recording you can either lower the resolution or the frame rate. For resolutions you can choose from 320 x 240 or 160 x 120, though the latter only records for 3 minutes. You can reduce the frame rate to 15 fps as well (except at the 160 x 120 resolution, where that's the only frame rate available), which doubles recording time.

While you can't use the optical zoom during filming, you can use the digital zoom. All of the My Colors features (including Color Swap and Color Accent) can be used in movie mode.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Since the movie quality should be about the same for both cameras, I only took a movie with the A630. And it's a big one too, so it's for broadband users only!


Click to play movie (22.6 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The A630 and A640 both have a pretty nice playback mode. It supports slideshows, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting. There is also has a separate print menu lets you tag photos for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

You can apply the My Colors features (except for Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color) to photos you've already taken. While you can rotate an image, there's no way to downsize or crop it. A editing feature lets you trim unwanted footage from your video clips.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get the screen on the right, which includes a histogram.

The A630 and A640 move between images almost instantly. Like most of Canon's 2006 cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

If you've been visiting this site for a long time, then you already know that I like Canon's A-series cameras. The PowerShot A630 and A640 are just as good as their predecessors, offering high resolution CCDs, full manual controls, a large rotating LCD, expandability, and more. While they're not perfect and are pretty bulky, they are very easy to recommend to just about anyone.

The PowerShot A630 and A640 are midsize, somewhat bulky cameras. While they won't slip into your jeans pocket, they're not a burden to carry around in a camera bag. The large grip makes the cameras easy to hold, and the important controls are easy to reach. Build quality is very good for the most part. One of the standout features on these cameras is their flip-out, rotating 2.5" LCD. The screen is easy to see in both bright outdoor light and dimly lit rooms -- it's just a shame that the resolution isn't higher. The A630/A640 also feature 4X optical zoom lenses, covering a range of 35 - 140 mm. If that's not good enough for you, Canon offers both wide-angle and telephoto conversion lenses for the cameras. The A630/A640 get bonus points for having an optical viewfinder and using AA batteries.

The A630 and A640 have both automatic and manual controls. On the auto side, there are numerous scene modes at your disposal. When you're ready to learn more about photography, these cameras are ready. They offer full manual controls, from exposure to white balance to focus. Very few cameras in this class offer these types of controls. There's also a custom spot on the mode dial, which can save your favorite camera settings. The A640 also has the ability to be controlled from your Mac or PC. Regardless of your skill level, everyone will like the movie mode on these cameras, though that pesky 1GB file size limit approaches quickly.

Camera performance was very good in most areas. The A630 and A640 start up in a little over a second, and the camera focus quickly and accurately, even in low light. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. Both cameras have nice continuous shooting modes, with the lower resolution A630 being able to shoot a bit faster than the A640. Battery life is well above average when using NiMH batteries.

Photo quality similar on both cameras -- very good. The A630 and A640 took well-exposed photos with accurate colors, pleasing sharpness, and minimal purple fringing. Noise levels were low through ISO 200, and at ISO 400 something surprising happened: the 10 Megapixel A640 performed better than the 8 Megapixel A630. You should have no problem making midsize prints at that setting -- and maybe larger. ISO 800 is best saved for situations where you have no other options. The one photo quality downside is a common one for the A-series cameras, and it's redeye.

There are a couple negatives worth mentioning before I wrap things up. For some reason, the cameras don't display the current zoom setting on the LCD, which is frustrating. You can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, and speaking of which, the plastic tripod mount was disappointing. The last issues have to d with the camera bundle: the included memory card (be it 16 or 32MB) is too small, and it would've been a nice touch for Canon to have thrown in some rechargeable batteries. I can dream, right?

The Canon PowerShot A630 and A640 are two very capable digital cameras that are suitable to beginners and advanced users alike. They offer far more than most cameras in this price range, which is why they earn my enthusiastic recommendation. I would recommend the A630 for most people, as it performs as well as the A640 in most situations, and it costs $100 less. The only reason to get the A640 would be if you're doing a lot of high ISO shooting, printing REALLY large-sized prints, or if you want to control the camera from your computer. Whichever camera you end up with, I think you'll enjoy using it.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, noise levels stay low through ISO 200; ISO 400 still usable too, especially on the A640
  • A bit more zoom than your typical camera in this price range
  • Large 2.5" LCD can flip out and rotate; screen is visible in low light
  • Very good performance
  • Full manual controls
  • Custom spot on mode dial
  • AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
  • Good movie and continuous shooting modes (though see issue below)
  • Camera can be controlled from your computer (A640 only)
  • Support for conversion lenses, underwater case
  • Uses AA batteries; above average battery life
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Redeye a problem
  • LCD resolution isn't great
  • Current zoom setting not shown on LCD
  • Can only record about 8 minutes of VGA video due to 1GB file size limit
  • Plastic tripod mount; can't swap memory cards while camera is on tripod
  • Included memory card is too small; bundling some rechargeable batteries would've been a nice touch

Some other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot A710 IS, Fuji FinePix A700 and F31fd, HP Photosmart R967, Kodak EasyShare C875, Nikon Coolpix L5, Olympus FE-200 and Stylus 740, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5, Samsung Digimax S1000, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A630 or A640 and their competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our PowerShot A630 and A640 galleries!

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

Want another opinion?

Steve's DIgicams has reviews of both the A630 and A640.