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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A95  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 4, 2004
Last Updated: December 31, 2011

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The Canon PowerShot A95 ($399) is the updated version of the very popular A80 from 2003. The A95 adds the following new features over the A80:

  • 5.0 Megapixel CCD
  • Larger, higher resolution LCD display (it still rotates)
  • Improved movie mode
  • More scene modes
  • Data imprinting on photos
  • Print/Share button

It's hard to improve on a camera that was already excellent, but Canon has managed to add a few nice features (most notably the LCD). Is the A95 even better than its predecessor? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A95 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Canon PowerShot A95 camera
  • 32MB 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
  • 161 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

The PowerShot A95 kit includes a 32MB CompactFlash card -- the same size as the one that came with the 4 Megapixel A80. The card is labeled as "high speed", and based on my tests it's probably about an 8X card. You can't hold very many 5 Megapixel photos on a 32MB card, so consider a larger card a mandatory purchase. I recommend 256MB as a good starting point. The A95 can only use Type I cards, meaning that you cannot use the Microdrive.

When it comes to batteries, Canon leaves it up to you. The A95 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) and a fast charger, which will last longer and will be more economical too. Using the new CIPA standard, Canon says that you can take about 400 photos using a set of 2300 mAh NiMH batteries -- that's pretty good. Compare that with 290 shots on the Fuji FinePix E510 and 340 shots on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1.

I always prefer cameras that use AAs over those using proprietary lithium-ion batteries. If you're in a jam, you can just buy a pack of alkalines to get you through the day. Plus, NiMH batteries are cheap.

The A95 has a built-in lens cover. It's not the smallest camera out there but is certainly still compact.

The PowerShot A95 has an impressive number of accessories available. Like taking pictures underwater? Check out the WP-DC50 waterproof case, which lets you take the A95 up to 40 meters into the deep!

If you don't plan on swimming with your camera, then a conversion lens may be more interesting. Canon offers three: wide-angle, telephoto, and closeup. The WC-DC52 wide converter ($90) reduces the wide end the lens by 0.7X, allowing you to take pictures at 26.6 mm. If you want more telephoto power, consider the TC-DC52A teleconverter ($100), which boosts the top end of the lens by 1.75X, which is 200 mm. The 250D closeup lens ($70) reduces the distance to your subject while in macro mode -- especially at the telephoto end of the lens. All of these lenses require the LA-DC52D conversion lens adapter ($20), which also allows you to use 52mm filters.

Other accessories include an AC adapter ($55), battery/charger kit (overpriced at $50), and a soft case.


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 19 of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software. 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.


RemoteCapture (Mac OS X)

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.


PhotoImpression 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.

Recent Canon camera manuals have become more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above average. The A95's manual is complete, but expect a fair amount of "notes" and fine print.

Look and Feel

With a few expectations (noted below), the A95 looks exactly like its predecessor, the A80. The camera is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and it feels quite solid (more so than the A75/85). It fits well in your hand and the important controls are easy to reach.

While not exactly tiny or light, the A95 is easy to carry around for the day. Just don't expect to fit it into your smaller pockets. The dimensions of the camera are 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) and it weighs 235 grams empty. That makes it slightly smaller and lighter than the A80. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the Fuji FinePix E510 are 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches and 175 grams, while they 're 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches and 190 grams for the Sony DSC-W1.

Enough numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning with the front.

The A95 has the same lens as its predecessor. That makes it an F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom model, with a focal range of 7.8 - 23.4 mm. That's equivalent to 38 - 114 mm in 35mm terms. The lens itself is not threaded, but by removing the plastic ring around the lens, like so:

... you can add the conversion lenses I mentioned in the previous section. Just don't forget to buy the adapter! To unlock the ring, just press the button to the lower-left of the lens. Okay, back to our tour now.

To the upper-right of the lens is the 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 (same as on the A80). You cannot attach an external flash to the A95.

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.

Probably the most important change on the A95 is the larger 1.8" LCD (versus 1.5" on the A80). Not only is it bigger, but the resolution has gone up from 67k to 118k pixels, too. Just like on the A80, the screen can flip out and rotate 270 degrees. It goes from pointing at the ground to pointing at your subject. Rotating LCDs are great for shooting over the heads of people, or taking ground level shots. The screen can also be closed entirely, or put in the more traditional position that you see below.

A few more notes about the LCD. It's bright, sharp, and motion is fluid. The screen automatically "gains up" in dim lighting so you can see what you're looking at.

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 screen you'll find the DC-in port (for optional AC adapter) which is kept beneath a rubber cover, as well as the set and menu buttons. In record mode the set button is also used to activate the FlexiZone AF feature. This feature, rarely seen on a camera at this price, lets you select a focus almost anywhere in the frame, save for a border around the edges.

To the right of the LCD are the mode switch, four-way controller, and three buttons. The switch moves the camera between record and playback mode. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, choosing manual settings, and also adjusting the flash and focus settings. The available flash options are automatic, forced on, and forced off -- you turn redeye reduction on in the record menu.


Manual focus (center-frame enlargement not shown)

The focus options are macro (discussed later in the review) and manual. In manual focus mode, you use the left/right buttons on the four-way controller to set the focus. A guide showing the current distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can ensure that your subject is sharp.


Function Menu

The next thing to see here is the Function / Delete photo button. 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, high speed continuous, 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, spot)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)
  • Compression (see chart)

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. This feature still isn't terribly common on lower-end cameras.

The A95 has two continuous shooting modes: regular and high speed. In regular mode, I was able to take 18 shots in a row at about 1.4 frames/second. The image is shown on the LCD, though the screen pauses slightly between each shot, making tracking a moving subject somewhat difficult. In high speed mode I took nine shots in a row at 2 frames/second. The LCD is off entirely in high speed continuous mode.

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 mode.

Back to our tour now. The display button turns the LCD on and off, and also toggles what is displayed on it.

To the right of the display button is the Print/Share button, new to the A95. 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:


Direct Transfer menu

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 your PC!

Up on top of the A95 are the power button, mode dial, shutter release button, zoom controller, and speaker.

The options on the mode dial include:

Option Function
Automatic Point-and-shoot mode, many options are locked
Program mode 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. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2000 sec. The 1/1250 sec speed is only available above F3.2 at wide-angle and F5.6 at telephoto, while 1/2000 sec is only available above F4.5 at wide-angle and F8 at telephoto.
Aperture Priority (Av) You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2.8 - F8 and will vary depending on the focal range used.
Full Manual You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values.
Custom Settings Your favorite settings, easy to access.
Movie mode More on this later
Stitch Assist Helps you make panoramic shots
Scene mode You pick the situations and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater, indoor, kids & pets, night snapshot.
Slow shutter Slows the shutter speed down
Fast shutter For stopping action
Night scene For people pictures with a night backdrop
Landscape Self-explanatory
Portrait

One thing I loved about the A70 and A80 were all the manual controls, something you still can't find on cameras in this class. You may not need them right away, but when you get more familiar with photography, you'll grow to love them.

The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds. With only 6 stops throughout the zoom range, you can't be terribly precise.

On this side of the A95 you'll find the last two I/O ports. They are for A/V out and USB (1.1).

On the other side you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is kept behind a flimsy plastic door. The door didn't seem to have very good "fit" either when closed. The A95 takes standard Type I CompactFlash cards.

The included 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 AA batteries. The door that covers it is also plastic and is marginally better than the one covering the CF slot.

Using the Canon PowerShot A95

Record Mode

It takes about two seconds for the A95 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Not bad.


Canon doesn't like histograms in record mode

Autofocus speeds are about average, with a delay of 0.6 - 0.8 seconds in most cases. If the camera has to hunt a bit, it can take a little over a second to lock focus. The camera focuses well in low light conditions thanks to its AF-assist lamp. The LCD remains usable in those conditions, which is always nice.

Shutter lag was low, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You will wait for just over a second before you can take another shot.

Press the Function/Delete photo button as the picture is being written to the memory card and you can toss it.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the A95:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
Large
(2592 x 1944)
Superfine 2.4 MB 11
Fine 1.4 MB 21
Normal 695 KB 43
Medium 1
(2048 x 1536)
Superfine 1.6 MB 18
Fine 893 KB 33
Normal 445 KB 67
Medium 2
(1600 x 1200)
Superfine 1002 KB 30
Fine 558 KB 54
Normal 278 KB 107
Small
(640 x 480)
Superfine 249 KB 119
Fine 150 KB 195
Normal 84 KB 336

The A95 does not support the TIFF or RAW file formats.

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. Do note that some of those options are not available in "auto" mode. Here's a list of all the options in the record menu:

  • AF Frame (AiAF, FlexiZone, center) - AiAF is 9-point autofocus; I discussed FlexiZone earlier; center just focuses on tech center of the frame and can speed up focusing times
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - whether camera meters on center of frame or AF point while in spot metering mode
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - center-frame enlargement in manual focus
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this turned off
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec)
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether camera "flips" the image on the LCD when you rotate the screen all the way around
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - see below
  • Save settings - to the "C" position on the mode dial. Handy feature!

I wanted to 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 A95, so let's take a look at that now:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn off those annoying beep sounds!
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • 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, Russian, Portuguese, 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 A95 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 PowerShot A95 did a great job with our usual macro test subject. Color looks good and there's plenty of detail to be found. Manual white balance helped keep the color accurate under my 600W quartz studio lamps and aperture priority mode was used for depth-of-field (no blurry nose here!).

In macro mode you can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle (56 x 42 mm recordable area) and 25 cm at telephoto (87 x 65 mm recordable area). If you buy the closeup lens attachment, those distances drop to 4 and 8 cm, respectively.

I want to apologize a little for this image. Yeah, it's slightly crooked, and yes, it's foggy (hey, it's summer, give me a break). I think the fog makes things look a little noisier than they actually are.

Anyhow, the A95 took a pretty nice shot of downtown San Francisco, though it's slightly noisy and there's a decent amount of purple fringing to be found. I was a little surprised to see all those purple halos at F4.9 -- I recommend using a higher F-number than I used if you want to get rid of the purple.

With shutter speeds as long as 15 seconds, night shots like this are easy. Just use a tripod!

Using that same scene, let's see how the A95 performed at higher ISO sensitivities:


ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

Things start off well enough but by ISO 200 things are pretty noisy. At ISO 400 things are pretty bad.

I took a lot of redeye test shots for this review. The first time I took it, I got something much like what you see above. After testing the PowerShot A75 a few months back and seeing opposite results, I tried again. And again. And kept getting the same results. I grabbed the A85 which is also here for testing and it did better. So for whatever reason the A95 seems to have more redeye than the A75 and A85 (they seem to have the same flash).

One thing to remember about redeye: your mileage may vary.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. I also see some vignetting (dark corners) in the test shot, but it wasn't a problem in my real world photos.

Overall I was very pleased with the photo quality on the PowerShot A95. Images are sharp, noise is low, and color and exposure are both accurate. I saw some purple fringing here and there but it's nothing to be concerned about. With 5 million pixels at your disposal, you can make some beautiful prints at 8 x 10 inches -- and larger.

By all means, have a look at our gallery before choosing to buy this camera. Print the photos just like you would if they were your own. Then decide if the A95 is right for you!

Movie Mode

The A95's movie mode is better than the one on the A80, but that isn't saying much -- it's still pretty outdated. You can record up to 30 seconds of VGA (640 x 480) video at 10 frames/second, with sound. At the lower resolutions (320 x 240 and 160 x 120) you can record for 3 minutes at 15 frame/second. Those time limits are fixed -- it doesn't matter how big your memory card is.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

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. A framerate this slow makes for choppy video!


Click to play movie (6.3MB, 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 A95 is no exception. Image protection, slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll mode are all here. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.

The "zoom and scroll" feature (my term) lets you zoom into your photos by as much as 10 times, which is helpful for determining whether your image is in-focus or not.

You can also rotate images (which was probably done automatically when you took the picture) or add a 60 second sound clip to them, if you wish. A movie editing feature lets you chop footage off the beginning or end of your "film".

The A95 is capable of showing you plenty of information about your photo -- just press the display button until you get what you see above. A histogram is shown as well (now if only we could get one in record mode!).

The camera moves through photos at an average clip, with a one second delay between each image. No low resolution placeholder is shown -- it's from one high res image to the next.

How Does it Compare?

The PowerShot A95 is a worthy follow-up to the extremely popular A80. There wasn't much that needed improvement on the A80, and admittedly some of the changes are pretty unexciting. The most important changes are the higher resolution CCD and larger/sharper LCD display. So what I'm saying is that the A95 is even better than an already great camera.

The A95 takes great picture, with accurate color and exposure, and low noise and purple fringing levels. Redeye did seem to be a problem, though I'm not sure why since the A75 and A85 did much better, and they're basically the same camera. The A95 isn't going to win any awards for shooting performance -- it's average in all respects, but it gets the job done every time. In low light the camera focuses accurately, and the LCD is visible thanks to an auto-gain function. The A80 had a rotating 1.5" LCD that was nice, but just too small. Now, on the A95, the LCD is up to 1.8" and the resolution has nearly doubled.

The real area in which this camera shines is in terms of manual controls. You may not need them yet, but trust me, you will. The camera can be used in automatic mode just fine (there are plenty of scene modes to help you out), but when you're ready, you'll appreciate the A95's full manual controls. This includes control over aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and focus. The A95 is expandable too, with support for wide-angle, telephoto, and macro conversion lenses. For those who like the water, an underwater case is also available.

The A95 isn't perfect, though. I already mentioned the redeye issues that I had, so here are some other complaints. For one, the date imprinting feature is only available at the 1600 x 1200 resolution. Now I don't care about that since I never use that feature, but you might. Second, the movie mode, while an improvement over the A80, is still pretty bad. Maybe next year Canon will leave the world of choppy, time-limited movie clips behind. Third, the plastic door over the CompactFlash slot was pretty flimsy, and it didn't seem to close very securely (at least on my camera). Finally, the 6 stops throughout the zoom range don't allow for a lot of flexibility when you're trying to get the focal range where you want it.

I highly recommend the A95 and expect it to sell at least as well as the A80 did in the last year. For those stuck between the A75, A85, and A95, it really comes down to one thing: the rotating LCD. You most likely don't need the extra resolution of the A95, but that rotating LCD sure is nice. If you like it too, then I'd go for the A95 -- otherwise the other two cameras perform just as well, but for less money.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Flip-out, rotating LCD display (now larger and sharper!)
  • Tons of manual controls
  • AF-assist lamp
  • LCD usable in dim lighting
  • Support for conversion lenses, underwater case
  • Tons of new scene modes
  • Can save favorite settings to spot on mode dial
  • FlexiZone AF system lets you focus nearly anywhere in the frame
  • Impressive software package

What I didn't care for:

  • Redeye
  • No diopter correction knob
  • No rechargeable batteries included
  • Flimsy plastic door over CF slot
  • Can only print the date on photos at 1600 x 1200 resolution
  • Movie mode not so hot in 2004

Other cameras in this class worth looking at include the Fuji FinePix E510, HP Photosmart R707, Kodak EasyShare DX7440 (4MP) and DX7630 (6MP), Nikon Coolpix 5200, Pentax Optio 555, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1. For those who can live without the 5MP resolution and rotating LCD, check out the Canon PowerShot A75 and A85 as well.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A95 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our PowerShot A95 gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out a review of the A95 over at Steve's Digicams.

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.