DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A10/A20
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, May 21, 2001
Last Updated: Friday, October 26, 2001

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The PowerShot A10 and A20 are essentially the same cameras, so I'm reviewing them together. The major difference is that the A10 is 1.3 Megapixel, and the A20 is 2.1 Megapixel. I will note other minor differences along the way.

When the PowerShot A10/A20 twins (list price $499/$599) were introduced, there was no doubt in my mind what cameras they were going after: the Olympus D-400/500 series, as well as the Fuji FinePix 1400/2400. Those point-and-shoot cameras have sold very well due to their familiar look which consumers latch right onto. So how well do these PowerShots do against the market leaders? Read on...

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A10 & A20 have good bundles. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 1.3 / 2.1 Mpixel PowerShot A10 / A20 camera
  • 8MB CompactFlash card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Solutions software
  • 120 page camera manual + 105 page software manual

There's really only one thing to comment on here, and that's the lack of rechargeable batteries. Digital cameras drink alkaline batteries like crazy and they end up polluting our landfills. Do yourself and the environment a favor and pick up a set or two of NiMH rechargeables and a fast charger.

Some other camera manufacturers should take a lesson from Canon. They include an 8MB CompactFlash card with the A10, which is only 1.3 Megapixels. I just reviewed a 3.3 Megapixel camera which also included an 8MB card, when it should really have a 32MB card.

Since the A10/A20 have built in lens protection, a lens cap is not needed.

One of the things that really sets the A10/A20 apart from the competition is optional features.

Above you can see the WC-DC52 wide-angle adapter. You'll need the LA-DC52 conversion lens adapter to use the wide-angle or the close-up lens.

Want to go swimming? Pick up the WP-DC200 waterproof case and you can take your PowerShot as deep as 30 meters (100 ft).

Neither Olympus or Fuji's similar cameras support either of these options.

I've tested Canon's PowerShot Solutions software in the past, and have found it to be the best software bundled with any consumer digital camera. The panorama software is top notch as well. Also of interest is the RemoteCapture software, which lets you control the camera via your Mac or PC.

I'm also a big fan of the manual included with the camera. Unlike most manufacturers, Canon provides a well organized, easy to read manual with their cameras.

Look and Feel

All the product shots below are of the PowerShot A20.

The PowerShot A10 & A20 are attractive, mostly plastic cameras that people will feel right at home with. While the body is almost completely plastic, I'd call it "high grade" and "solid" -- this thing won't bust in half if you're not careful with it. It fits well in your hands, and is small enough to fit in your pants pocket.

The chart below shows the dimensions and weight of the A10/A20 versus the competition:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, inches) Mass (empty, ounces)
Canon PowerShot A10/A20 4.3 x 2.8 x 1.5 8.8
Fuji FinePix 2400 4.9 x 2.6 x 1.5 8.8
Olympus D-490Z 5.0 x 2.6 x 2.1 9.5
Olympus D-510Z (new) 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.9 8.0

Let's begin our tour of the A10/A20, shall we?

The A10 and A20 share the same 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range of this F2.8 lens is 5.4 - 16.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105mm. While the lens itself isn't threaded, you remove a plastic ring around it to expose the threads to which you can attach the conversion adapter and other lenses.

One of the differences between the models is digital zoom: the A10 has 2X, the A20 2.5X.

The flash on the cameras has a range of 2.5 - 13.8 ft in wide-angle, and 2.5 - 8.2 ft at full telephoto.

Here's the "business end" of the cameras. The 1.5" LCD is a little smaller than most LCDs, but it's just as bright and fluid as the best ones.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. While larger enough, it lacks diopter correction for those of us with glasses.

The controls seen here should be familiar to those who have used Canon's PowerShot cameras before. The buttons around the LCD include:

  • Display (LCD on/off)
  • Exposure compensation & white balance
  • On/off
  • Menu
  • Macro & Landscape [rec] / Right [menu]
  • Drive [rec] / left [menu]
  • Flash [rec] / set [menu]

The drive button moves between single shot, continuous shooting, and self-timer modes. The cameras can shoot 2.5 frames/second in continuous shooting mode.

The white balance choices include auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, and black & white. There is no manual white balance mode on either camera.

To the right of all those buttons is the mode wheel, which has the following options:

  • Playback
  • Auto Record
  • Manual Record
  • Panorama Mode

The term "manual record" is misleading, considering that it only opens up continuous shooting, white balance, and exposure compensation. Those looking for control of the shutter speed, aperture, or focus will need to look elsewhere.

Panorama helper

The panorama mode is a nice little tool to help you stitch together a few shots into one continuous shot. Your panoramas can go left-to-right, or vice versa. I could've sworn some other Canon cameras can go up-down but not this one. Anyhow, a tripod is almost a requirement to get seamless panoramas. I've had some luck hand holding, but they're never perfect.

The final item of note on the back of the camera is the zoom control (which also works in playback mode). The controls are well-placed for easy thumb access, and the lens is responsive.

There's not much on top of the camera, with the exception of the shutter release button (which works just fine). There is no LCD info display on this camera, so you'll have to check the LCD to see how many shots you have remaining on the memory card. For comparison's sake, the similar Olympus include one, while the Fuji's do not.

Here's the side of the A10/A20, which features the I/O ports under that rubber cover. Let's take a look...

Under that cover you'll find USB (called Digital), Video Out, and DC in. And here's another difference between the A10 and A20: the A10 does not include video out. I should also mention that you use that Digital port to hook into Canon's CP-10 card printer, which I have also reviewed. Serial support is not available on the A10 or A20.

The other side of the camera is where you'll find the Type I CompactFlash slot (no Microdrive here). This is one of those spring loaded slots and the card is easy to remove. The door over the slot is plastic and seems sturdy enough.

Next to the CF slot is a compartment for a CR2016 battery which helps store the date in the camera's memory.

On the bottom of the camera, you'll find the battery compartment (which holds 4 AA's) as well as a plastic tripod mount.

Using the Canon PowerShot A10 & A20

Record Mode

The camera takes just over two seconds to extend the lens and prepare for shooting -- that's fast! Locking focus takes less than a second, and the shot is taken quickly when the shutter release button is fully pressed. When a shot is taken (Large size, Fine Quality) there's about a three second delay before you can take another. Speaking of size and quality, the chart below describes your choices on these two cameras:

PowerShot A10
Size Quality # shots on 8MB card
(included with camera)
# shots on 32MB card
(for comparison)
1280 x 960
SuperFine 10 43
Fine 16 67
Normal 32 131

1024 x 768

Superfine 16 67
Fine 24 102
Normal 46 189
640 x 480
Superfine 35 143
Fine 50 206
Normal 87 353

PowerShot A20
Size Quality # shots on 8MB card
(included with camera)
# shots on 32MB card
(for comparison)
1600 x 1200
Superfine 7 31
Fine 11 49
Normal 24 99

1024 x 768

Superfine 16 67
Fine 24 102
Normal 46 189
640 x 480
Superfine 35 143
Fine 50 206
Normal 87 353

The menus on these two cameras are simple and don't have a lot of options (this is a point-and-shoot, after all). Here's a look at what you'll find:

  • Resolution (see chart above)
  • Compression (see chart)
  • Review (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec) - how long the shot is shown on LCD after it's taken. You can hold it as long as you want by keeping the shutter release button held down when you take the shot.
  • File number reset (on/off)
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Format
  • Setup (sleep timer, date, video out format [A20 only])

Well that was easy enough. Let's take a look at some sample photos now.

PowerShot A10

PowerShot A20

Both cameras fared well in our macro test, with the A20's output being a little brighter than the A10 (both were shot at the same time). You can get as close as 16 cm (6.3") in wide-angle, and 26 cm (10.2") in telephoto modes on these two.

PowerShot A10

PowerShot A20

Nightshots taken on both cameras weren't that great. Since there's no "night scene" mode, or control over aperture/shutter speed, there isn't much you can do about it. In both cases, the camera just didn't let in enough light. Of course I've found this to be the case with most point-and-shoot digicams as well.

Aside from that, photo quality was impressive for both cameras. Colors were accurate and photos were usually very sharp. But don't take my word for it: judge for yourself by taking a look at photo galleries for the PowerShot A10 and PowerShot A20.

Both PowerShot models lack a movie mode of any kind. By comparison, the Olympus D-490Z and upcoming D-510Z have it, while the Fuji FinePix 2400 does not.

Playback Mode

The playback mode on the two PowerShots is quite good, with most of the features you'd expect. Slideshows, protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom & scroll are all there. So is DPOF print marking -- and you can use the Direct Print function to print directly to the CP-10 card printer.

In addition, you can rotate photos inside the camera, saving a trip to the photo editing software.

The zoom and scroll mode isn't as good as on other Canon cameras. You can only zoom in 2X (with no steps in between), and while it's fast, scrolling around with only left/right buttons is frustrating. I wish they could fit a four-way switch on these cameras.

The A10/A20 can move between high-res photos almost instantly on the LCD -- it's impressive. While some extra information is shown on the LCD, you won't know the shutter speed and aperture used to take the shot, though I'm not sure if the intended audience of these cameras will notice.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot A10 and A20 cameras are very competitive with similar offerings from Fuji and Olympus. At $349 and $399 (average street prices), they also represent excellent values. While I miss manual controls and movie mode, the design, easy of use, and overall photo quality make these two cameras great choices for someone looking for a point-and-shoot digital camera.

What I liked:

  • Nice design, easy to use
  • Good photo quality
  • 3X optical zoom on a < $400 camera
  • Excellent software bundle
  • Supports external lenses, underwater case unlike competition

What I didn't care for:

  • No movie mode
  • No manual controls
  • No rechargeable batteries included
  • Nightshots could be better

There are tons of cameras to compare these two against. Here's a brief list: Fuji FinePix 1400 [1.3MP] and FinePix 2400 [2.1MP], Kodak DX3600 [2.2MP], Nikon Coolpix 775 [2.1MP], Olympus Brio D-100 [1.3MP], D-490Z [2.1MP], and D-510Z [2.1MP], Sony DSC-P30 [1.3MP] and DSC-P50 [2.1MP], Toshiba PDR-M61 [2.3MP].

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the PowerShot A10/A20 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our A10 and A20 photo galleries!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Other reviews include:

PowerShot A10

PowerShot A20

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.


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