The PowerShot A400 ($179) is Canon's
entry-level digital camera. It's a major upgrade to
the previous camera to hold that title (the A310),
featuring a new 2.2X optical zoom lens instead of the
old fixed focal length lens of years past. With a street
price hovering around $150, the A400 is the cheapest
way to get a Canon camera into your hands.
The A400 is one of several cameras
this year to come in multiple colors:
Those colors are called Silver, Sky
Blue, Lime Green and Sunset Gold. I reviewed the blue
model, in case you couldn't tell.
Is the A400 a good entry-level camera?
Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot A400 has an average
bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 3.2 effective Megapixel Canon
PowerShot A400 camera
- 16MB Secure Digital card
- Two AA alkaline batteries
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital
Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
- 140 page camera manual + software
manual (both printed)
Canon includes a 16MB Secure Digital
(SD) memory card with the A400, and that won't hold
too many photos at the highest quality setting. So
you're going to want a larger memory card right away.
The camera can use SD or MMC cards, but you'll want
to use the former due to its superior performance and
capacity. I'd recommend a 128MB SD card as a good place
Something else you'll need to buy
are rechargeable batteries and a charger. The A400
includes two AA non-rechargeable alkaline batteries
in the box, which won't last long and end up in the
trash. My recommendation is to buy a set of NiMH rechargeables
(2100 mAh or better), which won't break the bank --
and it's more environmentally sensitive, too.
Canon estimates that you can take
about 300 photos (using the CIPA battery life standard)
with 2300 mAh batteries which is pretty good. You'll
only get 1/3 as much battery life using alkalines.
The A400 has a built-in lens cover
so there are no lens caps to worry about.
There are a couple of accessories
available for the A400. The most interesting is the
AW-DC20 all-weather case ($200), which lets you take
the A400 up to 3 meters underwater. Not suitable for
scuba, but okay for the beach or swimming pool. Other
accessories include an AC adapter ($40), NiMH battery
kit ($50 -- buy another brand and save), and a soft
(Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 19 (which is
actually a little outdated) of their excellent Digital
Camera Solutions software with the A400. 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 A400 is a camera that sits at
the intersection of Compact & Midsize. It's no
Digital ELPH for sure but it never got in my way. For
a "cheap" camera, it feels surprisingly well
built, made of a combination of metal and plastic.
The important controls are easy-to-reach and everything "feels
The dimensions of the A400 are 107.0
x 53.4 x 36.8 mm / 4.2 x 2.1 x 1.4 inches (W x H x
D), and it weighs 165 grams / 5.8 ounces empty.
Okay, let's begin our tour of this
The biggest change between the A310
and A400 is the addition of an optical zoom lens. The
lens here is an F3.8, 2.2X zoom with a focal range
of 5.9 - 13.2 mm. The 35mm-equivalent focal length
is important to note: 45 - 100 mm. That's great if
you love telephoto, but not-so-hot if you do a lot
of indoor shooting, or if architecture is one of your
favorite subjects. Since the lens is not threaded,
you can't attach a wide-angle conversion lens to the
To the upper-right of the lens is
the built-in flash. The working range of the flash
isn't spectacular -- just 0.5 - 2.0 regardless of the
focal length. You cannot attach an external flash to
One thing you do need to watch out
for with regard to the flash are your fingers! Due
to the positioning of the flash it's not hard to accidentally
put your fingers in front of the flash.
Just below the flash is the AF-assist
lamp, which helps the camera focus in low light conditions.
It's nice to see this feature on a low-cost camera.
The only other item of note here is
the microphone which is located at the top-center of
The A400 has a fairly small 1.5" LCD
display. Despite the size, it has a healthy 115,000
pixels, making things nice and sharp. In low light
the screen does become difficult to see, as it doesn't
brighten automatically (at least not very much) like
on some other cameras.
Directly above the LCD is the optical
viewfinder, which is average-sized. It doesn't have
a diopter correction feature (used to focus what you're
To the right of the viewfinder is
the mode switch. It moves the camera between playback,
record, scene, and movie mode. In scene mode you pick
the scenario and the camera uses the right settings
for that situation. The available scenes are:
- Night scene
The next item over is the zoom controller,
which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in
1.4 seconds. I counted just 5 stops in the zoom range.
To the immediate right of the LCD
are three buttons: Menu, Display, and Function/Delete
Photo. The menu button is self-explanatory; the display
button toggles the LCD and what's shown on it on and
off. The function button opens the (get this) function
menu, which has the following options:
- Shooting mode (Auto, manual, Stitch
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- White Balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- see below
- ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
- Photo effect (Off, vivid color,
neutral color, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
- Compression (see chart later in
- Resolution (see chart)
There are three shooting modes on
the A400. Both automatic and manual mode are point-and-shoot,
with the difference being that you can't access most
of the menu options while in auto mode. Stitch Assist
mode helps you line up photos so you can stitch them
into a panorama when you get home (using the bundled
The custom white balance feature lets
you shoot a white or gray card, to get perfect color
in any lighting. I was pleased to see this feature
on the low-priced A400.
The photo effect feature lets you
quickly change the color or sharpness of your photos.
You can also use the photo effects in movie mode.
To the right of those buttons is the
four-way controller, used for menu navigation as well
- Up - Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted,
- Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous,
- Left - Focus (Auto, macro, infinity)
- Right - Flash (Auto w/redeye reduction,
auto, flash on w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash
The only thing worth mentioning about
those is about the continuous shooting mode. Here you
can take up to 10 shots in a row (based on my tests)
at about 1.3 frames/second. The LCD briefly freezes
between shots, which can make following a moving subject
a bit difficult.
The final button to mention is the
Print/Share button, which is located to the right of
the four-way controller. 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
The last things to see here at the
I/O ports, which are located under the rubber cover
at the bottom of the picture. There you'll find ports
for USB, DC-in (for optional AC adapter), and A/V out.
The only things to see on the top
of the camera are the speaker, power button, and shutter
Nothing to see here...
Over on the other side you'll find
the SD/MMC card slot as well as the battery compartment.
The door that covers these is about average in terms
of build quality.
The included 16MB SD card is shown
We end our tour with a look at the
bottom of the camera. The only thing to see here is
the plastic tripod mount.
Using the Canon PowerShot
The A400 takes a little over two seconds
to extend the lens and "warm up" before you
can start taking pictures -- pretty snappy.
The A400's focus speeds were just
fair. It usually took around a second to lock focus,
making it one of the slower-focusing Canon cameras
that I've used. The camera focuses fairly well in low
light, but I've seen better from other cameras (Canon's
The A400 had very little shutter lag,
even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is good, with a
2 second wait before you can take another shot.
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 A400:
||Approx. file size
||# Images on 16MB card
(2048 x 1536)
(1600 x 1200)
(1024 x 768)
(640 x 480)
The A400 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!
The A400 has a very small record menu
that's very easy to use. Both the record and function
menus seemed quite sluggish for some reasons. The options
in the record menu include:
- Quick Shot (on/off) - reduces shutter
lag but makes the LCD freeze while the camera focuses
- 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)
- Self-timer (2, 10 secs)
- 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
I should mention the date stamp feature
since there's been some confusion about it lately.
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
A400, so let's take a look at those options now:
- 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)
- LCD brightness (-7 to +7 in 1-step
- 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, 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 A400 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 A400 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 look both
accurate and saturated. Thanks to the A400's custom
white balance (a nice feature on such a cheap camera),
my 600W quartz studio lamps were no challenge.
In macro mode you can get as close
to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at
The A400 is not a good choice if you
plan on taking long exposures. The slowest shutter
speed on the camera is one second and that won't cut
it for shots like this. The photo would've been great
had the shutter speed been 4-5 seconds... but alas
that is not possible. Purple fringing levels are low
and the buildings themselves are sharp (just too dark!).
The A400 did a good job in the flash
test, with just a bit of redeye and flash reflection.
The distortion test shows mild barrel
distortion at the wide end of the lens. There is some
vignetting (dark corners) here, but I didn't find it
to be a problem in my real world photos.
Overall the photo quality on the PowerShot
A400 is very good. Color, exposure, and sharpness all
earn good marks. If I had one complaint it would be
that details can sometimes be a little fuzzy. For evidence,
see the plants in this
picture or the bride and groom in this
one. Even with that, the photos look quite good
for a camera with a $179 price tag.
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 A400's photos meet your expectations!
While the A400 has 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.
You cannot use the zoom lens during
Movies are saved in AVI format, using
the M-JPEG codec.
Here's an fairly exciting sample movie for you. As
you can see, it's pretty choppy.
Click to play movie (7.7 MB, 640 x 480,
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Canon always has done a great job
with their playback modes, and the A400 continues the
tradition. 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.
The "zoom and scroll" feature
(my term) lets you zoom into your images up to 10X,
with many steps in between. Scrolling around in the
enlarged area is very snappy.
You can rotate images in playback
mode, but since the camera has an auto rotate function,
they may already be okay!
By default you won't see too much
information about your photos. But hit the Display
button and you'll get the screen you see above, 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 is no low res placeholder.
How Does it Compare?
Despite its low price, the Canon PowerShot
A400 doesn't compromise on image quality. Aside from
the occasional fuzzy background detail, the A400 takes
very good photos, not bad for a camera costing about
150 bucks! While not the smallest camera around, the
A400 (in your choice of four colors) is easy to take
wherever you go. It's well-designed and doesn't feel
cheap like some other entry-level cameras. Probably
the biggest flaw on the A400 (if you can call it one)
is the lens. It's not the 2.2X zoom that bothers me;
rather, it's the fact that the lens starts at 45 mm
-- not great for indoor shots.
The A400 offers an AF-assist lamp
for focusing in low light, those it didn't perform
that much better that average in those situations.
On the whole, camera performance was pretty average.
The menus seemed rather sluggish for some reason, as
well. There aren't any manual controls on the A400,
with the exception of white balance (which is a useful
one to have). In addition, the slowest shutter speed
is just 1 second, making the A400 a poor choice for
night shots. The camera has a VGA movie mode but it's
crippled by a 30 second time limit and sluggish 10
frame/sec frame rate. The flash was on the weak side,
The A400 is a good choice for an entry-level
camera, and it gets my recommendation. However, I would
suggest spending about $30 more to get the PowerShot
A75, which offers manual controls, a more reasonable
35 - 105 mm focal length, and support for conversion
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Doesn't feel "cheap",
despite its price
- Manual white balance
- AF-assist lamp (but just so-so
performance in low light)
- Optional all-weather case
- Good redeye test performance
- Comes in four colors
- Impressive software package
What I didn't care for:
- Details can be fuzzy in some pictures
- LCD doesn't "gain up" in
- 45 - 100 mm lens means you'd better
like telephoto shots
- Slowest shutter speed is 1 second
- Menus seemed sluggish
- Weak flash
- Movie mode has low frame rate,
short recording times
Some other low-cost cameras worth
looking at include the Canon
PowerShot A75, Casio
FinePix A330, HP
Photosmart M307, Kodak
EasyShare CX7330, Konica
Minolta DiMAGE Xt, Nikon
Coolpix 3200, Olympus
Lumix DMC-LC50, Pentax
Optio 30, and the Sony
Cyber-shot DSC-P73. A long list, for sure, so do
your homework before you buy!
As always, I recommend a trip
down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot
A400 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
A400 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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