DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A70
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 7, 2003
Last Updated: September 8, 2003

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In my opinion, one of the most exciting cameras introduced at PMA wasn't a digital SLR or loaded with pixels. Rather, it's a camera for the rest of the world, the folks who are really moving the digital camera market forward.

The camera I'm describing is Canon's PowerShot A70 ($349 street price), a 3.2 Megapixel camera loaded with features normally found on more expensive cameras. Lower end cameras don't usually excite me, but this was an exception. The A70 is much more than a re-badged A40 with a few small changes -- it's more likely a totally new camera. It uses the same new DIGIC processor as the high-end Canon models, giving it improved performance and photo quality. I'll cover the rest of the new features in the review.

For those who want the same features but fewer pixels, Canon also sells the PowerShot A60 for $100 less (the A60 also lacks the VGA movie mode).

Speaking of which, let's begin!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A70 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 Mpixel Canon PowerShot A70 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
  • 227 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

The A70's bundle is saved from mediocrity by an excellent software package. But more on that later.

You'll find a 16MB CompactFlash card in the box. It's enough to get started with, but you'll absolutely want a larger card right away.

When it comes to batteries, Canon leaves it up to you. The A70 includes four AA non-rechargeable alkaline batteries in the box, which won't last long and end up in the trash. My recommendation is to buy two or more sets of NiMH rechargeables (1800 mAh or better), plus a charger, which will last longer and will be more economical too. Canon estimates that you can take about 675 photos (or 280 mins in playback mode), per charge.


The A70 has a built-in lens cover

The PowerShot A70 is somewhat unique in that it supports add-on lenses. First you need to buy the conversion lens adapter (LA-DC52C) though. Once you've done that, you can use wide-angle, telephoto, and closeup lenses with your A70.

Another cool accessory is the WP-DC700 underwater case, which lets you take the A70 30 meters underwater. Two other accessories include a soft camera case and an AC adapter.

The A70 supports direct printing to Canon's CP-10, CP-100, and some BubbleJet printers.

The best part of the A70's bundle, in my opinion, is Canon's excellent software.

Canon includes their Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's Camera Suite, with the A70. The main programs in the DCS software package are ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC names), PhotoStitch (a great panorama creation product), and Remote Capture (which lets your Mac or PC control the camera over the USB connection). Canon's software continues to be head and shoulders over the competition, in my opinion. Best of all (for us Mac users, at least), the main programs (ImageBrowser, PhotoStitch, Remote Capture) are Mac OS X native!

The camera is also recognized automatically by Mac OS X and Windows XP.

Canon is also one of the best at creating camera manuals. Unlike the "VCR manuals" produced by some other manufacturers, Canon's manuals are well laid-out and easy to read. There are thick, printed manuals for both the camera and the software.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot A70 has slimmed down considerably since the A40. It's starting to look a little like the PowerShot G3 as well. The camera is mix of metal and plastic, and it feels pretty solid (so did the A40). It's a small camera, but certainly not as tiny as something like a Digital ELPH.

The dimensions of the A70 are 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 215 grams empty. The A40's numbers are 4.3 x 2.8 x 1.5 inches and 250 grams, respectively.

If I'm not mistaken, the A70 has the same lens as its predecessor. That lens is an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 5.4 - 16.2 mm. That's equivalent to 35 - 105 mm.

As I mentioned, the A70 supports add-on lenses. To use them, you press the button to the lower-left of the lens, and remove the plastic ring around it. You then screw in the lens adapter, and attach the conversion lens to it.

To the upper-left of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.46 - 4.2 m at wide-angle, and 0.46 - 2.5 m at telephoto. The A70 does not support external flashes.

Below that is the autofocus illuminator, which is always a welcome sight. This orange lamp helps the camera focus when lighting is low.

The other item of interest in the front of the camera is the microphone.

A little rant first... I hate mirrored camera parts -- it makes it that much harder to photograph. With that out of the way, let's continue our tour.

The A70 has a 1.5" LCD display, the same size as the A40. The images on the LCD are bright, sharp, and fluid, though the resolution could be better. The brightness is not adjustable.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is average-sized. There is no diopter adjustment for those of us with less than perfect vision though.

Below the LCD are four buttons. Set is the "OK" button for the menus. The Menu button opens and closes the main menu. Display turns the LCD on and off, and the info shown on it. The Function button opens an overlay-style menu in record mode, and can be used to delete a photo either in playback mode, or immediately after one is taken.


Function Menu

The function menu has the following options:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • White Balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • Drive (Single shot, continuous shooting, self-timer [2/10 secs])
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid color, neutral color, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Image Size/Quality - see chart later in review

The A70 has more white balance options than probably any lower-end camera I've tested. This includes a custom mode where you can shoot a white or gray card to get perfect white balance.

While some higher end Canon models have two continuous shooting modes, the A70 has one. In this mode, you can take pictures at a rate of 2.2 frames/sec, though it seems to start slowly. I took 11 pictures in a row at the highest quality setting.

Normal Color Vivid Color Neutral Color

Photo effects let you quickly change the color of your photos -- you can see some of them above (these are from the PowerShot S50, but you get the idea). You can use photo effects in any mode, including movie mode.


Manual focus

Another rare feature for a low-cost camera is true manual focus, and the A70 has it. You turn it on via the four-way switch (more on that in a second) and then use the left/right buttons to adjust it. A meter is shown on the LCD giving you the approximate focus distance, but the center of the image isn't enlarged like on some cameras -- a helpful feature.

Finally, we can continue with our tour. To the right of the LCD you will find the mode (record/playback) and the four-way switches. In addition to menu navigation, the four-way switch can be used for changing the flash (auto, forced, off) and focus (macro, manual) setting.

Up on top of the A70 are the power button, mode wheel, shutter release button, zoom controller, and speaker.

The options on the mode wheel include:

Option Function
Movie Mode More on this later
Stitch Assist For help making panoramic shots
Slow Shutter Self explanatory
Fast Shutter
Night Scene
Landscape
Portrait
Fully Auto Point-and-shoot mode, many options are locked
Programmed Auto Camera chooses shutter speed and aperture. All menu options are unlocked.
Shutter Priority (Tv) You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 15 sec - 1/2000 sec. The 1/2000 shutter speed is only available above F4.5 at wide-angle and F8.0 at telephoto.
Aperture Priority (Av) You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2.8 - F8.0 and will vary depending on the focal range used.
Full Manual You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values.

First of all, bravo to Canon for including these full manual controls on an inexpensive camera. However, I do miss the Custom setting that their more pricey cameras have -- this lets you save your favorite settings onto a spot on the mode wheel. Can't have everything I guess.

The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds. The zoom moves at one speed only, so it can be hard to be precise. I also noticed that horizontal lines sometimes appeared on the LCD when zooming (and only then).

Here is one side of the PowerShot A70. Under a rubber cover, you'll find the USB and A/V out ports, plus the DC-in port for the optional AC adapter.

Behind a somewhat flimsy plastic cover on this side of the camera is the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type I slot, which means no Microdrives.

The included 16MB card is shown.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the plastic tripod mount, which is located at the center of the camera. The battery compartment is down here as well, and it holds four AA batteries.

Using the Canon PowerShot A70

Record Mode

The A70 takes just 2.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures -- pretty snappy. If you desire, you can change the startup screen and sounds, via the menu system. Or better yet, turn them off.

Press the shutter release button halfway and the camera generally focuses in less than a second. It will take a little longer if the AF-assist lamp is used (about 1.3 sec in my test). The AF illuminator helped the A70 focus well in low light.

The camera uses Canon's 5-point AiAF autofocus system. The camera picks one of five areas of the frame to focus on (you can't pick where like on some cameras). If you want to use the center of the frame to focus on, you can do that too via the menu system.

The A70 had very little shutter lag, even at slower shutter speeds. In most cases you won't notice it, but when shutter speeds get near tripod territory, you'll notice a slight delay.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You will wait for just 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot.

Press the Delete button as the picture is being written to the memory card, and you can delete it.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the A70:

Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # Images on 16MB card
Large
(2048 x 1536)
Superfine 1602 KB 8
Fine 893 KB 16
Normal 445 KB 32
Medium 1
(1600 x 1200)
Superfine 1002 KB 14
Fine 558 KB 26
Normal 278 KB 52
Medium 2
(1024 x 768)
Superfine 570 KB 25
Fine 320 KB 46
Normal 170 KB 84
Small
(640 x 480)
Superfine 249 KB 58
Fine 150 KB 94
Normal 84 KB 165

The A70 does not support TIFF or RAW file formats.

Images are named xxx_####.JPG, where x = 100 - 998 and # = 0001 - 9900. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The A70 has an easy-to-use menu system, similar to those found on other PowerShot cameras. Here's a look at the record mode menu:

  • AiAF (on/off) - turns on the 5-point autofocus system
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 3.2X digital zoom will reduce photo quality
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec)

Not too much to see here!

There is also a setup menu on the A70, so let's take a look at that. Here are the interesting items:

  • Auto power down (on/off)
  • Beep volumes (for shutter, playback, startup, operation, self-timer)
  • File number reset (on/off)
  • Distance units (metric, imperial)
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

If you so desire, you can customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your A70 makes, providing your own sounds and pictures if you want. You can also shut all of that off.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The A70 did a nice job with our macro test. The colors on our famous 3" tall mouse are accurate, and the image is nice and sharp. The camera has a focal range of 5 - 46 cm at wide-angle, and 26 - 46 cm at telephoto in macro mode. The recordable area is 55 x 41 mm at wide-angle and 92 x 69 mm at telephoto.

I got a little trigger happy up on Twin Peaks and thus have two night shots for you. The first one (above) is the standard skyline shot. This 2 second exposure came out pretty well, though there's a bit of purple fringing in places. Noise levels are low, thanks to the A70's noise reduction system.

For the second night shot, I turned the tripod around facing Sutro Tower. You can see the moon and some cars going by as well. This is a 15 second exposure -- something unheard of on a $350 camera just last month. There is more noise in this shot, but I'd say it's acceptable given the long exposure.

One area in which the A70 did not fare so well is the redeye test. As you can see, it's pretty bad, even with redeye reduction turned on. I wasn't entirely surprised, as the flash is quite close to the lens, which is usually a good indicator of redeye. You can fix this phenomenon in software, but most people would rather not have to.

Our new (and completely unscientific) distortion test illustrates the noticeable barrel distortion at wide-angle, but there's no sign of vignetting (darkened corners).
(Test was reshot on 3/9/03)

Photo quality on the PowerShot A70 was very good in my opinion. Exposures were good, as was the color. The only two issues that I noticed were occasional purple fringing, and image softness that kind of "muddied up" the details of things like grass and trees. This photo is a good example of both issues. Neither of these are deal breakers for me though, as they were pretty rare in my experience.

Don't just take my word for it though -- have a look at the photo gallery and let your own eyes be the judge!

Movie Mode

The A70 has a very nice movie mode. You can record at three resolutions: 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120. You can record for up to 30 seconds at the highest resolution, and 3 minutes at the two smaller sizes. Do note that the included 16MB memory card can't actually hold 30 seconds of 640 x 480 video -- you'll need a larger card.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec. Sound is recorded along with the video.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. As I mentioned earlier, you can use the Photo Effects feature, so you can make a black and white movie if you desire.

Here's a sample movie for you, recorded at the 640 x 480 resolution. Be warned, it's huge!
Updated 3/10/02: I've added a better sample movie with less panning around


Click to play movie (5.9MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Canon always has done a great job with their playback modes, and the A70 is no exception. Image protection, slide shows, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail view mode are all here.

So is the "zoom and scroll" feature. You can zoom into your images up to 10X, with many steps in between. Scrolling around in the enlarged area is very snappy thanks to the DIGIC processor.

Moving between images is very quick as well -- a little over a second between high res thumbnails. You can find out almost everything about your photo, with the exception of a histogram, by pressing the display button.

How Does it Compare?

In case you didn't notice, I really liked the PowerShot A70. In fact, I've been interested in it since the time I was first told about it, a few weeks before its introduction. The A70 isn't just a low-cost camera, it's a full-featured camera too. It has full manual controls, including shutter speed and aperture, focus, and white balance. Performance and image quality are both very good, as are the playback and movie modes. It also supports add-on lenses and an underwater case. It's not perfect though. Images were occasionally soft, and purple fringing showed up more than I was expecting. Redeye seemed to be a problem. With the exception of the software, the A70's bundle isn't great. If you are looking for a quality camera that also happens to be inexpensive, the PowerShot A70 should be high on your list.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Robust performance
  • Has an AF illuminator lamp
  • Lots of manual controls for a cheap camera (in other words, it's a great value)
  • Impressive movie, playback modes
  • Great software package

What I didn't care for:

  • Redeye
  • Details in images a little too soft; purple fringing occasionally a problem
  • No diopter correction knob
  • No histogram in record or playback mode
  • Bundle could be better (aside from software)

Other 3 Megapixel cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot S230, Casio Exilim EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Fuji FinePix A303, HP Photosmart 735, Kodak EasyShare DX4330, DX6340 and LS633, Kyocera Finecam S3L, Minolta DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3100 and 3500, Olympus D-560Z and Stylus 300, Pentax Optio 33L and S, Sony DSC-P72 and -P8, and the Toshiba PDR-3310. A long list indeed.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the PowerShot A60 is more-or-less the same camera, but with a 2 Megapixel CCD and no 640 x 480 movie mode.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A70 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our PowerShot A70 gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out a review of the A70 over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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