PowerShot A85 ($299) is the 4 Megapixel sibling
of the PowerShot A75. The two cameras are identical
except for the difference in resolution, and the
frame rate in the continuous shooting and movie modes.
Both cameras are updates of the incredibly popular
PowerShot A70, which was one of my favorite cameras
in 2003. Some of the changes between the A70 and
- 4 Megapixel CCD
- Larger, higher resolution LCD display
- More scene modes
- More focus points
- Date imprinting on photos
- Print/Share button
Like the A70 and A75, the PowerShot
A85 is has a 3X optical zoom, full manual controls,
support for conversion lenses, and more.
If you're ready to learn about the
A85, start reading!
Due note that since they are nearly
identical, I will be reusing much of the A75 review
here to save time.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot A85 has an average bundle.
Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 4.0 effective Megapixel Canon
PowerShot A85 camera
- 32MB CompactFlash card
- Four AA alkaline batteries
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital
Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
- 154 page camera manual + software
manual (both printed)
Canon includes a 32MB "high speed" CompactFlash
card with the camera. I've estimated the speed of the
card at around 8X, and you need not spend money on
anything faster, as the camera can't take advantage
of it. The 32MB card won't hold too many 4 Megapixel
photos, so I recommend buying a larger card along with
the camera. A 128MB or 256MB card is a good place to
start. The A85 uses Type I CompactFlash cards, which
come in sizes of up to 2GB.
When it comes to batteries, Canon
leaves it up to you. The A85 includes four AA non-rechargeable
alkaline batteries in the box, which won't last long
and end up in the trash (or better yet, the recycling
bin). My recommendation is to buy two or more sets
of NiMH rechargeables (2100 mAh or better), plus a
charger, which will last longer and will be more economical
too. Canon estimates that you can take about 140 photos
(using the CIPA battery life standard) with the included
alkaline batteries. After a little extrapolation I'd
say that you'd get about 280 shots using 2300 mAh NiMH
The A85 has a built-in lens cover
so there are no lens caps to worry about. It's a fairly
small camera -- it's not Digital ELPH-sized, though.
There are quite a few accessories
available for this camera. I've put them into this
||0.8X wide converter brings
wide end down to 24.5 mm. LA-DC52C conversion
lens adapter required.
||2.4X teleconverter gives
you a 252 mm tele end. Requires LA-DC52C
||Get closer to your subject
while in macro mode. Requires LA-DC52C adapter.
|Conversion lens adapter
||Required for conversion
lenses. Also lets you use any 52 mm filter.
||Take your A85 up to 40
||Includes four 2300 mAh
batteries plus a charger
||Power the camera without
||Protect your camera from
Not bad for $299 camera, eh?
(Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 17.1 (which
is actually a little outdated) of their excellent Digital
Camera Solutions software with the A85. Included in
this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser
(for Mac), PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos),
plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser
can be used for downloading images from your camera,
basic editing of your photos, and photo printing.
Also built-in to the "Browser" software
is RemoteCapture, which you can use to control your
camera over the USB connection. Images are saved directly
to your computer.
5 (Mac OS X)
Also included is version 5 of ArcSoft's
PhotoImpression software, which is getting better with
each version. Here you can do more photo retouching
and printing. The user interface is quite good, as
well. VideoImpression is also included, for editing
those short movie clips the camera can record.
While still better than average, I've
found Canon's recent manuals to be a little more cluttered
than they used to be. The information is all there
-- just be prepared for lots of small print and "notes" in
Look and Feel
The PowerShot A85 looks just like
the A75 (aside from the color of the grip) and is very
similar to the old A70 as well. The A85 is a compact
camera that may not fit in your pocket like the Digital
ELPH cameras, but it's still small and comfortable
to carry around. The controls are well-placed, and
it's easy to hold.
The dimensions of the A85 are 101.0
x 64.0 x 35.0 mm / 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches (W x H x
D), and it weighs 200 grams / 7.1 ounces empty (slightly
lighter than the A70). The camera is made of both metal
and plastic, and everything is pretty solid, save for
the door over the CompactFlash slot.
With that out of the way, we can begin
our tour of the A85 now.
The A85 has the same lens as both
the A70 and A75. That lens is an F2.8-4.8, 3X optical
zoom model, with a focal range of 5.4 - 16.2 mm. That's
equivalent to 35 - 105 mm.
As I mentioned, the A85 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 twist on the lens adapter, and attach the
conversion lens to it.
To the upper-right 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
(same as the A75). You cannot attach an external flash
to the A85.
Below the flash is the autofocus illuminator,
which is always a welcome sight. This bright orange
lamp helps the camera focus when lighting is low. All
cameras should have this (and they still don't).
The other item of interest in the
front of the camera is the microphone, which is located
just above-left from the lens.
One of the big changes between the
A70 and A75/A85 was the LCD size and resolution. The
A70 had a 1.5" LCD with a measly 78,000 pixels,
which isn't so hot. The A75 and A85 have a much nicer
1.8" screen with 118,000 pixels. It's bright,
fluid, and sharp. One negative about the screen is
that it does not automatically "gain up" in
low light, which can make it hard to see anything when
Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder,
which is decent-sized. There is no diopter adjustment
for those of us with less than perfect vision though.
Below the LCD are two buttons (versus
four on the A70). The button on the left is the Print/Share
button, while the display button toggles the LCD and
what's shown on it on and off.
So what's the deal with the Print/Share
button? When connected to a Direct Print or PictBridge-enabled
printer, pressing this button will let you print your
photos. When connected to a Windows PC, the following
screen will be shown on the LCD:
As you can see, you can transfer all
images, new images, images that you've DPOF marked,
or you can manually select some. The wallpaper option
sets the chosen image as the background picture on
To the right of the LCD are two more
buttons: menu and function/delete photo. Pressing the
function button brings up the function menu, which
has the following options:
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Flash output (1/3, 2/3, full) -
only shown while in "M" mode
- White Balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- see below
- Drive (Single shot, continuous
shooting, self-timer [2 or 10 secs]) - see below
- ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
- Photo effect (Off, vivid color,
neutral color, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
- Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted,
- Image Size/Quality - see chart
later in review
The custom white balance feature
(which is finally becoming more common) lets you shoot
a white or gray card, to get perfect color in any lighting.
While some higher end Canon models
have two continuous shooting modes, the A85 has one.
In this mode, you can take pictures at a rate of up
to 1.5 frames/sec (versus 2.2 fps on the A75). I took
7 pictures in a row at the highest quality setting
before the camera started to slow down. The LCD skips
a bit between each frame, making following a movie
subject a bit challenging (but at least there's the
The photo effect feature lets you
quickly change the color or sharpness of your photos.
You can use photo effects in any mode, including movie
To the right of those two buttons
is the newly redesigned four-way controller, which
is much easier to use than the one on the A70. In addition
to navigating the menus, it can also be used to adjust:
- Up - Flash setting (Auto, flash
on, flash off) - you turn redeye reduction on in
the record menu
- Down - Macro + manual focus
The manual focus feature lets you
use the left and right buttons on the four-way controller
to focus the lens yourself. A guide showing the current
focus distance is shown on the LCD. The camera lacks
the useful "focus check" feature, which enlarges
the center of the frame, which you can use to ensure
that your subject is in-focus.
The final items on the back of the
camera is the mode switch, located at the top in the
above photo, and the DC-in port, at the lower-left.
The mode switch moves the camera between record and
playback mode. The DC-in port, which is kept under
a rubber cover, is where you'll plug in the optional
on top of the A85 are the power button, mode dial,
shutter release button, zoom controller, and speaker.
options on the mode wheel include:
||More on this later
||For help making panoramic
NEW on the A75/A85.
Choose from foliage, snow, beach, fireworks,
many options are locked
||Camera chooses shutter
speed and aperture. All menu options are
|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 1/16000 sec
shutter speed is only available above F3.2
at wide-angle and F5.6 at telephoto. 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
||You pick the aperture
and shutter speed. See above for values.
One thing I loved about the A70 were
all the manual controls and the A85 continues the tradition.
You may not need them right away, but when you get
more familiar with photography, you'll grow to love
them (trust me on this one).
The zoom controller moves the lens
from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds.
I counted seven steps in the zoom range, so don't expect
too much precision.
Here is one side of the PowerShot
A85. Under a rubber cover, you'll find the USB (1.1)
and A/V out ports.
On this side of the camera, behind
a pretty flimsy plastic door, is the camera's CompactFlash
slot. This is a Type I slot, which means that you can't
use the Microdrive.
The included high speed 32MB card
is shown at right.
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
Using the Canon PowerShot
The A85 takes a little over two seconds
to extend the lens and "warm up" before you
can start taking pictures -- pretty snappy.
The autofocus speeds on the A85 are
not going to win any awards, with the camera taking
0.8 seconds at wide-angle to lock focus after you press
the shutter release halfway. At the telephoto setting
it can take 1.0 - 1.3 seconds to lock focus depending
on the subject. Low light focusing was good thanks
to the AF-assist lamp. It's too bad that the LCD is
to be usable in those situations.
The A85 had very little shutter lag,
even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You
will wait for just 1.5 seconds before you can take
Press the Function 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 A85:
||Approx. file size
||# Images on 32MB card
(2272 x 1704)
(1600 x 1200)
(1024 x 768)
(640 x 480)
The A85 does not support TIFF or RAW
Images are named IMG_####.JPG, where
# = 0001 - 9900. The file numbering is maintained even
if you replace or erase the memory card.
Now, onto the menus!
I already mentioned the Function menu
earlier in the review. There's a regular menu system
as well, which is small and easy-to-navigate. Here's
what you'll find in the record menu:
- AiAF (on/off) - turns on the 9-point
autofocus system; if off, camera focuses on whatever's
in the center of the frame
- Redeye reduction (on/off)
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best
to keep this turned off
- Review (Off, 2-10 sec)
- Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
- print the date and/or time on your photos
Do note that some of those options
are not available in "auto" mode.
I should mention the date stamp feature
since there's been some confusion about it. To use
this feature you must use the function menu's resolution
option to select "postcard size", which is
1600 x 1200. Then and only then can you print the date
and/or time on your photos. It should be an option
at all the resolutions in my opinion!
There is also a setup menu on the
A85, so let's take a look at that:
- Mute (on/off) - turn off those
annoying beep sounds!
- 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,
- Date/time (set)
- Card format
- File number reset (on/off) - maintain
- Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will
automatically rotate portrait photos for you
- Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
- Language (English, German, French,
Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish,
Spanish, Chinese, Japanese)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
In addition, there is a "My Camera" menu,
where you can customize the startup screen, beeps,
and phony shutter sounds that your A85 makes, providing
your own sounds and pictures if you want. You can also
shut all of that off, which may not be such a bad idea.
Well enough about menus, let's do
photo tests now.
The A85 did a fine job with our usual
macro test shot. The image is quite "smooth" which
seems to be a Canon trait these days. Colors are saturated
and look good. The manual white balance feature easily
handling my 600W quartz studio lamps.
In macro mode you can get as close
to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle (55 x 41 mm recordable
area) and 26 cm at telephoto (92 x 69 mm recordable
area). If you buy the close-up lens attachment, those
distances drop to 3 and 13 cm, respectively.
The A85 also did a nice job with our
night test shot. With manual control over the shutter
speed, I was easily able to take in enough light. The
buildings are sharp, there's a bit of noise, and there's
a moderate amount of purple fringing. The easy way
to get rid of the purple is to use a smaller aperture
(higher F-number), just
Using that same shot, let's see how
the A85 performed at the different ISO sensitivities:
Things start getting noisy at ISO
100 and just go up from there. ISO 400 is especially
If you read my PowerShot A95 review
you know that it did worse than the A75 and A85 in
the redeye test, and I still don't know why. You'll
get some redeye, but it's not horrible. You can clean
up what's there using the included software.
The distortion test shows mild barrel
distortion at the wide end of the lens. I see no signs
of vignetting (dark corners) or blurry edges.
Photo quality on the PowerShot A85
was very good overall. Images were well-exposed, colorful,
and detailed. Noise was slightly apparent (check out
the sky) but it was nothing to be concerned about.
Some goes for purple fringing: it was not a major problem
in my real world test photos.
Don't just take my word for it, though.
View our photo gallery and
print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide
if the A85's photos meet your expectations!
While the A75 and A85 have a VGA movie
mode, it's quite limited when compared to other cameras.
You can record up to 30 seconds of 640 x 480 video
(10 frames/sec), with sound. Drop the resolution down
to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 and the frame rate jumps
to 15 frames/sec and the recording time increases to
3 minutes. It doesn't matter how large a memory card
you have, these limits are fixed!
Please note that the VGA movie mode
frame rate is actually worse on the A85 than it is
on the A75. It's 15 frames/sec on the A75 but only
10 frames/sec on the A85.
You cannot use the zoom lens during
Movies are saved in AVI format, using
the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, recorded
at the 640 x 480 resolution. Good quality, but choppy.
Click to play movie (6MB, 640 x 480, AVI
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Canon always has done a great job
with their playback modes, and the A85 is no exception.
Image protection, slide shows, DPOF print marking,
voice captions, and thumbnail view mode are all here.
The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing
to a compatible photo printer.
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.
By default you won't see too much
information about your photos. But hit the Display
button and you'll get the screen on the right, complete
with a histogram.
The camera moves through photos at
an average pace, taking about 1 second between each
one. It goes from one high res photo to the next --
there are no placeholders.
How Does it Compare?
As it was with the A75 and A95, the
PowerShot A85 is a first-rate entry-level camera. It's
great for both beginners who want fully automatic operate
to more experienced photographers (or those who want
to become one) who like manual controls. The A85 offers
very good photo quality, full manual controls, plenty
of scene modes, an AF-assist lamp, and expandability.
The A85's photo quality is quite good, with only a
bit of noise and purple fringing. The camera has the
full suite of manual controls, including white balance
and focus. For those who aren't ready for those yet,
the camera offers 11 scene modes. The A85's AF-assist
lamp helps it focus in low light, but it's too bad
that the LCD is so dark in those situations. Finally,
the camera is expandable, with support for conversion
lenses and an underwater case. About the only thing
you can't add is an external flash.
There aren't too many downsides to
this camera. While I like the VGA movie mode, the time
limit and crummy frame rate aren't so hot. Rechargeable
batteries in the box would've been nice. And finally,
the plastic door over the CompactFlash slot leaves
much to be desired.
Overall, though, this camera comes
just as highly recommended as the other A-series cameras
that I've tested. Which one should you buy? The A75
is fine for most people. If you plan on making prints
larger than 8 x 10 inches (or like to crop your photos),
then I'd consider the A85 or A95. At that point it
comes down to whether you want to pay another $100
for the A95 for the extra Megapixel and rotating LCD
(a valuable feature, for sure). Any way you go, you
really can't lose with the A-series cameras.
What I liked:
- Excellent value
- Very good photo quality
- Full manual controls
- AF-assist lamp
- Lots of manual controls for a cheap
- Support for conversion lenses,
- Lots of scene modes
- Impressive software package
What I didn't care for:
- Cheesy plastic door over CF slot
- LCD doesn't "gain up" in
- No rechargeable batteries included
- Movie mode has low frame rate,
short recording times
Some other cameras worth considering
include the Fuji
FinePix E500, HP
Photosmart R607, Kodak
EasyShare DX7440, Nikon
Coolpix 4200, and the Sony
Cyber-shot DSC-W1. There may be other models that
interest you -- I've only listed my top picks in the
group -- so check out the Reviews & Info
section for more.
And don't forget the PowerShot A75 (3.2MP)
and A95 (5MP,
rotating LCD), either!
As always, I recommend a trip
down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot
A85 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality
turned out? Check out our photo
Want a second opinion?
Check out another review of the
A85 over at Steve's
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.
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