DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A80
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 12, 2003
Last Updated: April 28, 2004

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One of the most popular cameras of 2003 has been the Canon PowerShot A70 (see our review). It's received positive reviews from camera review sites (like this one) and users alike. Due to its popularity, finding an A70 proved difficult for many consumers, who would show up at Best Buy to find them out of stock. What made the A70 so desirable? In my opinion, it's because Canon "gets it". They created a lower cost camera which not only took good quality pictures, but also offered full manual controls, support for add-on lenses, and an AF-assist lamp -- items rarely found on cameras in that class.

How could Canon improve on the A70? They started by -- not surprisingly -- bumping up the resolution to 4.0 Megapixels. Then they took one of the most appealing features from the PowerShot G3 and G5: the swiveling LCD. And those are the major changes between the A70 and the new PowerShot A80 ($399 street price), reviewed here.

Does Canon have another hit on their hands? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A80 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Canon PowerShot A80 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions and ArcSoft Camera Suite
  • 215 page camera manual + add'l software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 32MB CompactFlash card with the camera, a good starting point. Even so, you'll definitely want a larger card right away. You can use any Type I CompactFlash card (I recommend sticking with name brands), which are available in capacities of up to 1GB.

Something else you'll want to buy is a set of batteries and a fast charger, since Canon includes alkaline batteries in the box. I highly recommend buying at least two sets (of four) NiMH rechargeables, 2000 mAh or better. Canon estimates that you'll be able to take 675 pictures (with 50% LCD use), or spend 280 minutes in playback using their 1600 mAh rechargeable batteries, so you'll do even better than that with higher capacity cells. Either way, the battery life on the A80 is quite good. And, if you're ever in a jam, you can always pop in alkaline batteries to get through the day.

The A80 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry about.

One thing I love about the A70 is just how expandable it is -- and the A80 is the same way. You won't find very many lower-end cameras that allow you to use conversion lenses.


Image courtesy of Canon Inc.

As the diagram above shows, you can get wide-angle ($99), telephoto ($129), or close-up ($105) lenses for the A80. Before you use any of those, you'll need to buy the LA-DC52D conversion lens adapter ($20). The wide-angle adapter gives you an effective wide end of 26.6 mm, while the telephoto adapter boosts the total zoom to 200 mm. The close-up lens reduces the minimum distance to the subject to 4 cm at wide-angle, and 8 cm at telephoto. The conversion lens adapter will also let you attach any 52mm filter.


Image courtesy of Canon Inc.

Another cool accessory is the WP-DC900 waterproof case ($240), which will let you take your A80 up to 40 meters underwater!

Other accessories include a battery/charger kit ($45), AC adapter ($65), and a soft case. The one item that you can't use on the A80 is an external flash.

The A80 is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to photo printers that support that system, and it also can be directly connected to select Canon printers.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 14 (!) of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's very capable Camera Suite, with the A80. The main programs in the DCS software package are ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC names), PhotoStitch (a great panorama creation product), and RemoteCapture (which lets your Mac or PC control the camera over the USB connection).

Above is a panoramic photo, taken with the A80, that I stitched together using PhotoStitch. As you can see, it's not perfect -- though using a tripod would've certainly helped here (this was an unplanned photo).


PhotoImpression in Mac OS X

The ArcSoft package includes PhotoImpression 4 for Mac and Windows, as well as VideoImpression (1.7 for PC, 1.6 for Mac). Despite its somewhat cheesy interface, PhotoImpression is a nice program for retouching and organizing your photos.

Canon's software bundle continues to be a lot nicer than what the competition includes with their cameras. Best of all (for us Mac users, at least), all the software is Mac OS X native.

Canon's camera manuals also are some of the best out there. You'll get a full, printed camera manual (that actually makes sense), as well as a separate manual for the bundled software as well.

Look and Feel

Maybe it's just me, but the build quality on the A80 seems a lot nicer than on the A60 and A70. There's a lot more metal to it, and it feels great -- not cheap at all. The A80 is not what I'd call a compact camera -- rather it's somewhere between compact and midsize. It's a little too big to fit in your pocket, but you'll never tire of carrying it around.

As with its predecessor, the A80 is very easy to hold and operate, even with one hand.

The official dimensions of the camera are 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (W x H x D, without protrusions), and it weights just 250 grams empty. The A70's numbers were 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches and 215 grams, respectively. So the A80 has bulked up a bit.

Let's take a closer look at the A80 now!

The A80 has an F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom lens. The lens has a focal range of 7.8 - 23.4 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The A80 uses a bayonet-style system for conversion lenses: just press the button to the lower-left of the lens, unscrew the ring, and pop on the conversion lens adapter.

At the top-right, you can see the A80's built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.45 - 4.4 m at wide-angle, and 0.45 - 2.5 m at telephoto. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot use an external flash with this camera.

Directly below the flash is the AF-assist lamp. Canon has been including these for years now, and there are still major manufacturers who omit this necessity on their cameras.

Looking now to the top-left of the lens, you'll see the microphone.

The biggest change on the A80 has to be its new rotating LCD display. It can be rotated in the positions shown above and below, and anywhere in-between. This feature, first seen on Canon's G-series cameras, is a real help when you're trying to shoot over peoples' heads, for example.

Here's the LCD in a more normal position. At 1.5" in size, it's on the small side. The LCD has 67k pixels, though you wouldn't know it, as the screen is sharp. You cannot adjust the screen brightness. [updated 11/15/03]

Directly above the LCD is the good-sized optical viewfinder. It lacks a diopter correction knob, which is helpful for those without perfect vision.

Below the LCD are two buttons: "set" is the "OK" button in the menu, while "menu" invokes the menu system. To the left of that, under a plastic cover, is the DC-in port, which is where you'll plug in the optional AC adapter.

Over to the right of the LCD, you'll find a switch, two buttons, and the four-way controller. I'll start at the bottom and work my way up.

The disp[lay] button toggles the LCD on and off, as well as what is displayed on it (you can customize this info in the setup menu). The func[tion] button opens up the function menu (described below) and it also deletes a photo.


The function menu

The function menu is where you'll change the shooting settings on the camera. The available options on this overlay-style menu are:

  • Exposure compensation (+2EV to -2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash output (1/3, 2/3, full) - only available in full manual mode
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • Drive (Single-shot, continuous, high speed continuous, self-timer [10 and 2 sec])
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Image size/compression - see chart later in review

As you can see, the A80 has a manual white balance feature, which lets you shoot a white or gray card to get perfect white balance in any lighting. In fact, the A80 has a full suite of manual controls, as you'll see later.

The regular continuous shooting mode will take photos at around 1.6 frames/second, showing each image on the LCD as it is taken. High speed mode is faster: 2.4 frames/second, but you won't get the LCD preview of each shot. I was able to take seven shots in a row in regular mode, and five at high speed (at Large/Superfine quality setting).

The photo effect feature lets you change the color between regular, vivid, and neutral. You can use photo effects in any of the camera modes.

Back to the tour now. Above the func button is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and more. The "more" includes:

  • Up - Flash (Auto, flash on, flash off) - redeye reduction is activated in the menu system
  • Down - Focus (Macro, manual)


Manual focus

If the camera's 9-point autofocus system just won't do it for you, the A80 offers a manual focus mode. A meter displaying the current focus distance is shown on the LCD , and you use the left/right directions on the four-way controller to adjust it. The camera will also digitally enlarge the center of the frame, so you can ensure that your subject is in focus.

The final item on the back of the A80 is a switch, which moves the camera from record to playback mode.

On the top of the PowerShot A80, you'll find the power button, mode dial, shutter release button (with zoom controller around it), and microphone.

The power button is nice, in that you have to hold it down for a second to turn the camera on or off. So you won't accidentally turn it on when you're putting it away.

The mode dial is chock full of options, and even has some nice new ones:

Option Function
Movie Mode More on this later
Stitch Assist For help making panoramic shots
Slow Shutter For taking photos at slower shutter speed, like to blur water or action. Tripod recommended.
Fast Shutter For action photos
Night Scene Self-explanatory
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 appropriate 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.
C1/C2 Save your favorite camera settings to one of two spots on the mode dial -- nice!

It's nice to see that Canon includes some useful scene modes (like action), for folks who don't want to mess with the manual settings. The custom settings options on the mode dial is also a nice touch -- the lack of this feature was one of my few complaints about the A70.

The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.5 seconds. It's not as precise as it could be, though.

The only thing to see here are the I/O ports for A/V and Digital (USB) output, which are kept under a plastic cover.

On this side, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a plastic door of average quality. This is a Type I slot, which mans that you can not use the Microdrive.

The included 32MB CF card is shown at left.

Finally, we reach the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the battery compartment and a plastic tripod mount. I wish the tripod mount was metal, as most of the rest of the camera is.

Using the Canon PowerShot A80

Record Mode

The PowerShot A80 extends its lens and "warms up" in just two seconds -- very speedy for a camera with a zoom lens.

The A80 generally locked focus in under a second, which is about average. If the autofocus has to hunt, or if the AF-assist lamp is used, it may take longer. The camera was able to lock focus on subjects around the office in dim light.

Shutter lag is minimal at fast shutter speeds, and noticeable at slower shutter speeds (where you should be using the flash or a tripod anyway).

Shot-to-shot speed is very good: under 1.5 seconds pass before you can take another shot, assuming you turned off the post-shot review feature. If you have the review feature turned on, half-pressing the shutter release will ready the camera for another shot.

After a shot is taken, you can press the function button to quickly delete the photo you just took.

Here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the A80:

Resolution Compression Approx. File Size # shots on 32MB card
(included)
Large
2272 x 1704
Superfine 2.0 MB 14
Fine 1.1 MB 27
Normal 556 KB 54

Medium 1
1600 x 1200

Superfine 1.0 MB 30
Fine 558 KB 54
Normal 278 KB 108
Medium 2
1024 x 768
Superfine 570 KB 53
Fine 320 KB 94
Normal 170 KB 174
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 120
Fine 150 KB 196
Normal 84 KB 337

There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera, unlike some of Canon's more expensive cameras. The camera names files as IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9900. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase or format the card.

The A80 uses the same menu system as other PowerShot cameras. It's basic, and easy to use. Note the some of the options below are only available in P/A/S/M mode. Here are the available menu options:

  • AiAF (on/off) - turns multi-point autofocus on and off
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame when using manual focus
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this reduces photo quality
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec) - for showing image on LCD after it is taken
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether image on LCD is reversed when LCD is rotated (to face the subject)
  • Save settings (C1, C2) - saves your favorite settings to the C1 or C2 spot on mode dial

The A80 also has a setup menu, with the following options:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn the beep sounds off
  • Volume - set the volume for the various sound effects the A80 makes
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min) - delay before LCD is turned off
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - automatically rotate portrait photos
  • Distance units (Meters, feet)
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

There is also a "My Camera" menu, which allows you to customize the startup screen and various noises that the camera makes. You can import your own sounds, or you can turn them all off, thankfully.

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

The A80 did an excellent job with our 3" tall macro subject. Color and detail are both spot-on. The "smoothness" is impressive as well. In macro mode, you can get as close as 5 cm at wide-angle, and 25 cm at telephoto. The recordable area is 56 x 42 mm and 87 x 65 mm, respectively.

If that's not close enough, get the close-up lens, which lowers the minimum distance to 4 cm at wide-angle, and 8 cm at telephoto.

I've got two night test shots for you in this review. The first one, above, is pretty nice, except for purple fringing and the fact that I can't seem to take a level shot anymore. I was surprised to see this much purple fringing at an aperture of F4.5. One way to reduce it is to use a higher F-number (thus smaller aperture).

The ability to select a shutter speed as slow as 15 seconds allows you to take shots like this.

And here's the other shot. The purple fringing is again noticeable, and this one was taken at F4.9! One thing that's not visible here is any noise, and that's good.

Speaking of noise, here's a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the amount of noise in your photos. Why would you use a higher ISO? Quite simply, it lets you use a faster shutter speed, which may be necessary if you don't have a tripod.


ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image


ISO 400
View Full Size Image

As you can see, noise levels are fairly low until ISO 200. Once you hit ISO 400, things are pretty grainy.

The A80 turned in a good performance in the redeye test. There's a tiny bit of red, but mostly it's just the flash reflection that you see here.

Our distortion test shows mild barrel distortion and the slightest hint of vignetting (dark corners). Luckily I did not see any of this phenomenon in my real world photos. I should add that I had a heck of the time getting the color right on this test shot -- most cameras do fine, but I had to use custom white balance to get this to look right.

Overall, the PowerShot A80's photo quality was very good, with accurate color, and incredible detail. There were two issues that bothered me, though. The first is the camera's tendency to "blow out the sky" in certain situations, with this and this being examples (the A70 did this too). The second issue is purple fringing (seen here, plus in previous two examples). In much the same way as the PowerShot G5, the A80 has more of this than it should -- and the night shots at F4.x apertures show that it doesn't go away easily. Neither of these issues are deal breakers in my opinion -- these problems weren't common, but I noticed it enough to knock off a few points for photo quality. One thing to keep in mind is that the A80 costs $399, and the photos are pretty darn good for that price.

Please, don't let me words be your only guide -- look at our photo gallery, and see if the quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The A80 has an average movie mode that would've been great two years ago. You can record up to 3 minutes of video at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120, both at 15 frames/second. Sound is also recorded.

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

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

If you thought my Canon SD10 sample movie was dull, wait until you see this one:


Click to play movie (3.0MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The A80 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras.

The A80 has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you blow up the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. This feature is well-implemented on the A80 -- it's super fast.

The Sound Memo feature lets you add a 60 second sound clip to an image, in WAV format.

You can also rotate your photos in playback mode using the Rotate function.

If you're viewing a movie, you can use the Movie Edit tool to trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of the clip.

The A80 provides plenty of information about your photos, including a histogram. You can toggle what is shown by pressing the Disp button

The camera moves through images at an average clip -- just under two seconds elapse between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

Like the A70 before it, the Canon PowerShot A80 is one of the most appealing cameras in its class. Canon took the A70, added a higher resolution (4MP) CCD, a nicer metal body, and a rotating LCD display -- producing a camera unmatched for the $399 price. Photo quality is very good, though I was frustrated with the occasional purple fringing and blown highlights. The A80 has every manual control that one would need, ranging from shutter speed to white balance to focus. Enthusiasts will also like the ability to save your favorite settings to a spot on the mode dial. The camera's performance is better than average in all areas, and its AF-assist lamp lets it focus in dim lighting. If the manual controls are too much for you, the A80 offers some nice scene modes, including an action mode. The A80 supports wide-angle, telephoto, and close-up conversion lenses, and there's an underwater case available as well. Downsides are few, here -- I already mentioned the photo quality issues. The only other things that I can mention are the outdated movie mode, plastic tripod mount, and omission of rechargeable batteries in the box. It's hard not to like the PowerShot A80 -- it's a camera I strongly recommend.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, aside from issues discussed; great detail, color, low noise
  • Full manual controls
  • Can save favorite settings to mode dial
  • Flip-out, rotating LCD display
  • Very solid, easy to hold body
  • AF illuminator
  • Supports add-on lenses, underwater case
  • One of the best software bundles out there
  • Great value

What I didn't care for:

  • Blown highlights in some images
  • Too much purple fringing, even at higher F-numbers
  • Plastic tripod mount
  • No rechargeable batteries included
  • Movie mode is outdated

Some other cameras in this class include the Canon PowerShot S45 and S400 Digital ELPH, Casio Exilim EX-Z4U, Fuji FinePix F700 (I suppose), Kodak Easyshare DX6440, Kyocera Finecam L4v, Minolta DiMAGE F300 and S414, Nikon Coolpix 4300 and 4500, Olympus C-4000Z and Stylus 400, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC43, Pentax Optio 450 and S4, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P92 and DSC-P10, and the Toshiba PDR-4300. I've listd a lot of cameras there, but keep in mind that most of them are missing the manual controls of the A80.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A80 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read another review at Steve's Digicams!

Buy it now

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.

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