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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A720 IS  
   

Front of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 6, 2007
Last Updated: December 10, 2007

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The Canon PowerShot A720 IS ($249) is an update to the PowerShot A710, one of my favorite cameras from 2006. The A720 isn't a huge leap over its predecessor, though some of the new features are appreciated. Here are the most notable new features:

  • 8.0 effective Megapixel CCD (versus 7.1 MP on the A710)
  • DIGIC III image processor (the A710 had DIGIC II)
  • Expanded ISO range of 80 - 1600 (versus 100 - 800)
  • Face detection AF/AE
  • Longer movie recording times
  • Improved battery life

Everything else is about the same, and that's fine, as the A710 was already an excellent camera. That means that the A720 has a 6X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, a 2.5" LCD display, full manual controls, conversion lens support, and much more.

Canon has several models in their A-series, and differentiating the models can be difficult. I put together this chart to help you figure things out:

Feature PS A550 PS A560 PS A570 IS PS A650 IS PS A720 IS
Street price
(at time of posting)
$161 $146 $167 $371 $213
Resolution 7.1 MP 7.1 MP 7.1 MP 12.1 MP 8.0 MP
Optical zoom 4X 4X 4X 6X 6X
Lens max. aperture F2.6 - F5.5 F2.6 - F5.5 F2.6 - F5.5 F2.8 - F4.8 F2.8 - F4.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 210 mm 35 - 210 mm
Image stabilization No No Yes Yes Yes
Image processor DIGIC II DIGIC III DIGIC III DIGIC III DIGIC III
LCD size 2.0" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 86,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 173,000 pixels 115,000 pixels
Rotating LCD No No No Yes No
Manual controls No No Yes Yes Yes
Face detection No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Movie mode file size limit 1 GB 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB
Supports conversion lenses No No Yes Yes Yes
Supports underwater case No No Yes Yes Yes
Battery used AA (2) AA (2) AA (2) AA (4) AA (2)
Battery life with 2500 mAh batteries (CIPA standard) 550 shots 500 shots 400 shots 500 shots 400 shots

I hope that helps a little! One thing I want to point out is that the A650 and A720 do not use the exact same lens. They share the same maximum aperture and focal length, but otherwise they're different lenses.

The A710 was one of my favorite low priced, big zoom cameras. Will the A720 do just as well? Find out now, our review starts now!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A720 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot A720 IS camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution, Apple QuickTime, and drivers
  • 209 page camera manual + software starter guide and direct print user guide (all printed)

Canon includes a 16MB memory card along with the A720, which holds just three photos at the highest image quality setting. So, unless you have a larger memory card sitting around, you'll need to buy one right away. The A720 supports all kinds of different memory card formats, including SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus (which I didn't even know about until now). I would recommend a 1GB card as a good starter size. Buying a high speed card is a good idea, though you don't need to go overboard.

Like its predecessor (along with most of the other A-series cameras) the A720 is powered by two AA batteries. The alkalines that come in the box will quickly find their way into the trash, so you'll want to pick up a four pack of NiMH rechargeables plus a fast charger right away. Once you've got those installed, here's what kind of battery life you'll get out of the camera:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot A650 IS * 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot A710 IS * 360 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot A720 IS * 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix F480 150 shots NP-40N
GE E850 210 shots GB-40
HP Photosmart Mz67 260 shots 2 x unknown NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z885 300 shots 2 x 2100 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix P50 330 shots 2 x 2000 mAh NiMH
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7 * 460 shots 2 x unknown NiMH
Samsung S850 N/A N/A

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

Kind of a mixed group there, with some cameras using AA batteries, and others using lithium-ion. The A720 got an 11% boost in battery life over its predecessor, and it's above average for the group as a whole.

As you may know, I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. They're cheaper than their proprietary li-ion counterparts, and you can buy off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables die.

Canon PowerShot A720 IS in the hand

The PowerShot A720 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with.

Like most of the cameras in the PowerShot A-series, the A720 has plenty of optional accessories. They include:

Accessory Model # Price Description
Wide-angle lens WC-DC58N From $135 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.7X to 24.5 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens TC-DC58N From $97 Boosts focal range by 1.75X to a whopping 367.5 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Close-up lens 250D (58 mm) From $85 Lets you shoot close-ups between 18 and 25 cm away, even at the telephoto end of the lens; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC58G From $20 Required for conversion lenses; threaded for 58 mm accessories as well
External slave flash HF-DC1 From $95 Boosts flash range and reduces redeye; since it's a slave flash, the DC1 fires when the onboard flash does
Waterproof case WP-DC16 $170 Take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
AC adapter ACK800 From $34 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Rechargeable battery kit CBK4-300 From $40 Includes four 2500 mAh batteries and a charger

That's an impressive selection if you ask me!


CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Included with the A720 is version 31.0 of Canon's Digital Camera Solutions software suite. Canon has given their software a refresh, with the ImageBrowser (Mac) and ZoomBrowser (Windows) products now up to version 6. The Mac version is now Universal, so it runs at full speed on Intel-based Macs.

The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (shown above), and you'll use it to download photos from your camera.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, depending on your computer. Here you can view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos.


ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

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. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.


PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. You can use the A720's Stitch Assist mode to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

Canon has consolidated their manuals a bit this year. Instead of separate basic and advanced manuals, you'll now find a thick user manual in the box. While the manual won't win any awards for its user-friendliness, it is complete, and will answer any question you may have about the A720. There are two additional manuals included with the camera: one for direct printing via PictBridge, and the other for the bundled software.

Look and Feel

If you've seen the PowerShot A710, then you've seen the A720. The design is identical, with the color scheme being the only difference. The A720 is made almost entirely of plastic, but despite that, it feels solid in your hands. There's a decent-sized grip for your right hand, and there's enough room for your fingers to rest without touching any buttons. Speaking of buttons, the A720 doesn't have too many, and those that are present are centrally located.

Now, here's a look at how the A720 IS compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot A650 IS 4.4 x 2.7 x 2.2 in. 26.1 cu in. 300 g
Canon PowerShot A710 IS 3.8 x 2.6 x 1.6 in. 15.8 cu in. 210 g
Canon PowerShot A720 IS 3.8 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 16.8 cu in. 200 g
Canon PowerShot G9 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.7 in. 20 cu in. 320 g
Fujifilm FinePix F480 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 140 g
GE E850 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.4 cu in. 155 g
HP Photosmart Mz67 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.7 in. 16.6 cu in. 220 g
Kodak EasyShare Z885 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 10.5 cu in. 161 g
Nikon Coolpix P50 3.8 x 2.6 x 1.8 in. 17.8 cu in. 160 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 12.7 cu in. 184 g
Samsung S850 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.0 in. 10.3 cu in. 172 g

While I'm not sure why, the PowerShot A720 is just a hair bigger than its predecessor. In this rather group of mid-zoom cameras, the A720 is on the large side. The A720 is a little too big for your jeans pocket, but it'll fit comfortably in a small case or a jacket pocket.

Okay, enough about that -- let's tour the camera now.

Front of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

The PowerShot A720 IS has the same F2.8-4.8, 6X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The focal length of the lens is 5.8 - 34.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 210 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can remove the ring around it by pressing that button to its lower-right. Once that's done you can attach the optional conversion lens adapter, and then one of the conversion lenses I listed in the previous section.

Somewhere inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands which can blur your photos. The camera then shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion. This allows you to use slower shutter speeds than you could on an unstabilized camera, resulting in sharper photos. Do keep this in mind, though: the OIS system won't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow you to take night photos like the one later in this review without a tripod.

Want to see how well the OIS system works? Check these out:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on ("shoot only" mode)

Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/5 second, which almost certainly would result in a blurry photo on an unstabilized camera. Sure enough, with OIS turned off, the shot is blurry. However, with image stabilization on, the image is tack sharp. As you'd expect, you can also use OIS in movie mode, and you can see how well it works in this short video clip.

Getting back to the tour now, the next thing to see is the built-in flash at the top-right of the photo. The flash range has expanded a bit since the A710, with a new working range of 0.30 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.55 - 2.5 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power and less of a chance of redeye, then consider picking up the slave flash that I mentioned in the previous section. Again, that flash does not synchronize with the camera in any way -- it simply fires when the onboard flash does.

To the left of the flash is the optical viewfinder, followed by the AF-assist lamp. The camera uses the AF-assist lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

Below the AF-assist lamp is the last item on the front of the PowerShot A720, the microphone.

Back of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

On the back of the camera you'll be greeted by a 2.5" LCD display. Unfortunately, the resolution of the screen hasn't improved since the A710 -- there are just 115,000 pixels here. Most folks will probably notice the lower resolution of the screen, so it's a wise idea to try out the camera before you buy it. The screen's outdoor visibility is fairly good -- I rarely had trouble seeing it. Low light viewing is excellent, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations.

Just above the LCD is an average-sized optical viewfinder, a feature which is becoming quite rare these days. The viewfinder does lack a diopter correction knob (used to focus what you're looking at) but hey, I'll take what I can get.

At the upper-right of the photo we find the record/playback mode switch. Below that are buttons for exposure compensation + delete photo and Print/Share. The exposure compensation feature has the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments range.

When you're connected to a computer or printer, the blue light on the Print/Share button will light up. For computers, you can transfer images (in various ways) and even set the desktop background of your PC, right from the camera. If you're connected to a PictBridge-enabled printer, the button is used to start printing (you can set the print settings using the menus). You can also assign a function to this button for record mode, and I'll tell you more about that in the menu section of the review.

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

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, flash off) + Jump (quickly move ahead in playback mode)
  • Down - Focus (Auto, macro, manual)
  • Center - Function / Set


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, 1600) - see below
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, underwater, custom) - see below
  • Drive (Single-shot, continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, custom self-timer)
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, custom color) - see below
  • Flash compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) + flash output (1/3, 2/3, full) - this last item is only available in manual mode
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

As with all of Canon's recent cameras, there are two Auto ISO modes to choose from on the A720. The difference 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 photos will contain more noise, which isn't desirable if you're making larger-sized prints. I'll have more on the camera's ISO performance later in the review.

The A720 has a custom white balance mode, which 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 in my reviews.

While it's no speed demon, the A720's continuous shooting mode will keep firing away at 1.3 frames/second until your memory card fills up. There's a brief lag on the LCD between each shot, though you shouldn't have trouble following a moving subject. Do note that a high speed memory card is required for best continuous shooting performance.

The custom self-timer is a very nice feature exclusive to Canon cameras (for the moment). You can select how many shots are taken (up to 10), and how long of a delay there is before the shutter releases (up to 30 secs).

The PowerShot A720 IS has a stripped down version of Canon's My Colors feature. You can make your photos more vivid or neutral, take a picture in black and white or sepia, or manually adjust the sharpness/contrast/saturation. The A720 lacks the color swap and color accent features found on some of Canon's other cameras.

Below the four-way controller are two more buttons. The display button toggles what is shown on the LCD, and can also turn the thing off entirely. The menu button does just as it sounds -- it activates the menu system.

Top of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

Let's move on to the top of the camera now. At the center of the photo we find the power button, which has the mode dial to its right. 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 the shutter speed, and the camera picks the appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2000 sec; do note that you may have to use a smaller aperture in order to access the fastest shutter speeds
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
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 scene, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, and underwater
Indoor More commonly used scene modes
Kids & Pets
Night Snapshot
Landscape
Portrait

Like nearly all of the cameras in the Canon A-series, the A720 has full manual exposure controls. If you're not ready for those just yet, you can use the numerous auto and scene modes instead.

To the right of the mode dial is the speaker, with the zoom controller and shutter release button above that. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.9 seconds. I counted fifteen steps in the camera's 6X zoom range.

Side of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

On this side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. The ports here include A/V out, USB, and DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). The A720 IS supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

Side of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

Nothing to see here. The lens is at the full telephoto position in this shot.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

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 decent quality. You should be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

Using the Canon PowerShot A720 IS

Record Mode

It takes the PowerShot A720 just 1.1 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting, which is the same as the A710.


No live histogram to be found

Focus speeds were very good, but not spectacular. In the best case scenarios (wide-angle, good lighting) the camera took between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus. At the telephoto end of the lens, or if the camera had to "hunt" a bit, focus times approached -- but rarely exceeded -- one second. Low light focusing was excellent, due in part to the A720's AF-assist lamp.

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

If you're not using the flash, shot-to-shot delays are minimal -- you'll wait around 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot. If you are using the flash, however, that delay goes up to 3 or 4 seconds, which is on the slow side.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card 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 on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 16MB card
(included)
# images on 1GB card (optional)
Large
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 3 278
Fine 2.0 MB 6 462
Normal 980 KB 13 958
Wide (16:9)
3264 x 1832
Superfine 2.5 MB 5 366
Fine 1.5 MB 8 612
Normal 736 KB 18 1284
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 5 380
Fine 1.4 MB 9 678
Normal 695 KB 19 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 8 590
Fine 893 KB 15 1058
Normal 445 KB 30 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 13 942
Fine 558 KB 24 1678
Normal 278 KB 47 3180
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 52 3554
Fine 150 KB 81 5494
Normal 84 KB 128 8634

And now you see why I recommended getting a large memory card back in the first section of the review!

There's one more image size on the A720 that I didn't list in that chart, and it's called postcard. It shares the same resolution as Middle 2 - 1600 x 1200. If you want to print the date on your photo, then you must use postcard mode!

The A720 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to.

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 PowerShot A720 IS uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, responsive, and easy-to-use. Here's the complete list of items in the record menu:

  • AF frame (Face detection, AiAF, FlexiZone, center) - see below
  • AF frame size (Normal, small) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.6X, 2.0X, standard) - see below
  • Flash sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Flash adjust (Auto, manual) - if manual is chosen, you can select the flash strength in the function menu; only displayed in Av or Tv modes
  • Redeye reduction (on/off) - uses the AF-assist lamp to reduce this annoyance
  • Safety FE (on/off) - the camera automatically adjust the shutter speed or aperture in flash shots to prevent overexposure
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what part of the frame the camera meters
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - center-frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - lets you use autofocus after manually focusing
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Converter (None, wide, tele, macro) - for using the conversion lenses
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - only works when using postcard resolution!!
  • Set Print/Share button (Off, ISO, white balance, custom white balance, digital teleconverter, display overlay, display off) - define what this button does in record mode


The camera locked onto all six faces

There are four focus modes on the PowerShot A720. The first one is Face Detect, which is one of the big features on cameras this year. This will lock the focus and exposure on up to nine different faces in the frame. Canon's implementation of this feature is very good -- the A720 had no trouble locking onto all six faces in our test scene. The other focus modes include AiAF (9-point auto), center-point, and FlexiZone. This last option lets you select an area in the frame on which to focus by using the four-way controller. This comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod.


The two different focus point sizes

If you're using the center or FlexiZone focus points, you can select the size of the focus point. You can choose from "normal" or "small".

A few quick notes on the digital zoom feature. Canon calls the 1.6X and 2.0X options a "digital tele-converter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera -- it just enlarges the center of the frame digitally. The camera's Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point at which image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens. For example, you can go up to 9.6X total zoom at the M2 (2048 x 1536) resolution.

What are those IS modes all about? Continuous IS activates the image stabilizer as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release, which helps you compose your shot without camera shake. Shoot only mode activates the IS system when the photo is actually taken, which is more effective at stopping blur than continuous mode. Panning mode only compensates for up and down motion, and it's name describes when you'd want to use this feature. Finally, you can just shut the whole image stabilization system off, which is a good idea if the camera is on a tripod.

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)
  • Startup image (on/off)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder (yes/no)
    • 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
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

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

The PowerShot A720 did a very good job in our macro test. My only complaint is that there's a very slight, greenish cast to the photo -- looks like the custom white balance feature had a little trouble with my studio lights. Otherwise, the news is good. The colors are quite vivid, and the subject has the smooth look that is a trademark of Canon cameras.

In macro mode you can be just 1 centimeter away from your subject. Do note that macro mode is only available in the first half of the focal range (1X-3X). Adding the optional macro conversion lens will allow for closer focusing distances in both macro and regular focus modes.

The night shot turned out well, though it's a bit too bright, and slightly noisy. With manual control over the shutter speed, you can take long exposures with ease. The buildings are sharp, though you can see the effects of noise and noise reduction, though they are mild. Purple fringing was not a problem here.

There are two ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the night scene above, so you can see how noise levels look at high ISOs in low light. Here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 80 and 100 shots are very similar, as you'd expect. At ISO 200 we start to see more noise and noise reduction artifacting, and this is as high as I'd take the camera in low light situations. That's because, at ISO 400 and above, we see a color shift and significant detail loss.

We'll see how the PowerShot A720 performs in better lighting in a moment.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the A720's 6X zoom lens. You can see what barrel distortion can do to your photos by looking at the building on the right of this photo. I did not find corner blurriness or vignetting (dark corners) to be problems on the A720.

Canon's A-series cameras have tended to have big redeye problems, and the A720 is no exception. The good news is that now there's a tool (in playback mode) to remove it. Here's the result:

Now that's MUCH better. If this feature could be run automatically I'd be even happier.

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in our "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. And with that...


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There's not much to say about the first three images -- they're all very clean. At ISO 400 we see some noise and noise reduction artifacting start to appear, but you should be able to make small and midsize prints with ease. At ISO 800 noise becomes fairly strong, so I'd save this setting for desperation only. The ISO 1600 has too much loss to be of any use, in my opinion.

Overall, I was very pleased with the photo quality on the PowerShot A720. It took well exposed photos, with pleasing saturated colors. Photos are sharp, and details aren't smudged like on some cameras (Canon goes fairly easy on the noise reduction). Noise levels are quite reasonable when the lighting is good, up until ISO 400. I do wish that the A720's low light ISO performance was a bit better, though. Purple fringing was minimal on the camera.

Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and maybe print a few of the photos if you can. Then you'll be able to decide if the A720's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The A720's movie mode has improved greatly compared to the A710. The big issue everyone had with that camera was the 1GB file size limit. The limit is 4GB on the A720, allowing for much longer movies. Anyhow, at the highest quality setting, you can record 640 x 480 video (at 30 fps) with sound until you run out of memory or hit the file size limit (whichever comes first). It takes roughly 32 minutes to hit the file size limit.

If you want longer movies, but don't want to lower the resolution or frame rate, then you can use the new 640 x 480 Long Play setting. This mode applies more compression to the video, allowing for double the record time of the regular VGA mode. There are two other quality settings as well: 320 x 240 (30 fps) and 160 x 120 (15 fps). Do note that there's a 3 minute recording limit for that last one.

As you'd expect, the image stabilizer is active while you're recording. While you can't use the optical zoom during filming, you can use the digital zoom.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec. An edit feature in playback mode lets you trim off unwanted parts of your movies.

Here's the usual train sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (20.4 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot A720 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic features include 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 use the four-way controller to move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting. There's also a separate print menu that lets you tag photos for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

The camera lets you rotate and resize photos, though there's no cropping tool available. As I mentioned in the previous section, there is an effective redeye removal tool available, and odds are that you'll need it.

The default view in playback mode doesn't show much information about a photo. Press the display button, however, and you'll see a lot more, including a histogram.

The A720 moves between images almost instantly. Like nearly all of Canon's recent cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

I've long been a fan of Canon's PowerShot A-series cameras. They offer photo quality, features, and expandability normally not found on lower-priced cameras. The PowerShot A720 IS continues this tradition, giving users a full-featured camera with a 6X lens and image stabilization for under $250. The A720 is a camera which I can highly recommend.

The PowerShot A720 looks identical to its predecessor, the A710. That means that it's a midsize, plastic camera with a 6X optical zoom lens and 2.5" LCD display. The camera is generally well put together, though I'm not a fan of the plastic tripod mount. The camera is easy to hold and operate, with the important controls in the right places. The A720 gives you more zoom power than most cameras in its class, covering a range of 35 - 210 mm. If you want to widen that range, Canon offers both wide and telephoto lenses. The A720 features Canon's optical image stabilization system, which does a good job of reducing the risk of blurry photos due to camera shake. The LCD on the PowerShot A720 has good outdoor and low light visibility, but its 115,000 pixel resolution is lacking. One of the A720's features that's all too rare these days is an optical viewfinder -- thank you Canon for not getting rid of it!

As I said, one of the reasons I'm so fond of the A-series cameras is that they offer a ton of auto modes plus the full set of manual controls. On the automatic side, you've got a regular point-and-shoot mode, plus numerous scene modes available. There's also a handy Stitch Assist mode for lining up panoramic photos. The camera offers the requisite face detection feature, and it worked quite well in my tests. When you're ready for manual controls, the A720 has all of them: shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and focus. Regardless of your skill level, you'll enjoy the PowerShot A720's movie mode, which allows you to record over an hour of continuous VGA quality video.

The PowerShot A720 IS was a pretty snappy performer, overall. The camera takes about 1.1 seconds to extend its big lens, which is above average. Focusing speeds were good, typically around 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, and rarely exceeding one second. Low light focusing was excellent, thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp. Shot-to-shot speeds were minimal, except when you're using the flash, where they were around 3 to 4 seconds. While the PowerShot A720 won't break any speed records for its continuous shooting mode, I do like the fact that you can keep shooting until your high speed memory card fills up. The camera's battery life is more than 20% above average, and that's on just two AA batteries. Like all Canon cameras, the A720 IS supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

Photo quality was very good in most respects. The A720 took well-exposed photos with saturated colors, pleasing sharpness, and lots of detail. Purple fringing was not a problem. The camera keeps noise under control until ISO 400 in good lighting, but you'll see noise and noise reduction artifacting start popping up a lot earlier in low light. Redeye is also a problem, though you can remove it easily in playback mode.

As you can see, there isn't much to complain about when discussing the PowerShot A720. The only thing I missed is a comment about the tiny memory card included with the camera. Otherwise, the PowerShot A720 IS is a great choice for those looking for a budget, mid-zoom camera with all the trimmings -- I highly recommend it.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 6X zoom lens is more than typical cameras in this price range
  • Large 2.5" LCD, good outdoor/indoor visibility
  • Full manual controls
  • Snappy performance, for the most part
  • AF-assist lamp, excellent low light focusing
  • Well-implemented face detection, redeye reduction features
  • Very good movie mode allows for over an hour of continuous VGA recording
  • Support for conversion lenses, external slave flash, and underwater case
  • Above average battery life; uses AA batteries
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Noisy images in low light, even at low ISOs; highest ISO settings not very usable (in any lighting)
  • Redeye a big problem, though it can be removed in playback mode
  • Mediocre LCD resolution
  • Sluggish flash recharge speeds
  • Plastic tripod mount
  • Included 16MB memory card is too small

Some other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot A650 IS (more pixels, rotating LCD), Fuji FinePix F480, GE E850, HP Photosmart Mz67, Kodak EasyShare Z885, Nikon Coolpix P50, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7, and the Samsung S850.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A720 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

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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 or technical support.

Want another opinion?

You can read more reviews at CNET, Steve's Digicams, and Imaging Resource.