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In use, the A400 proved to be a pleasant camera to use. Start-up time was about five seconds and shutter lag was very respectable which makes it a reasonable choice for action subjects. The rather tight viewfinder was a shame as it left me relying almost solely on the LCD for framing shots, which of course has an impact on battery life.
The lens quality was generally excellent and the A400 is quite capable of taking sharp images. Chromatic aberrations were visible when the aperture is fully opened, but these became less obvious when the aperture was stopped down a little – sadly, something you can only do by increasing the ISO rating for lack of an aperture priority mode.
There was mild barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom and an average level of barrel distortion at full zoom. I was able to notice slight vignetting by turning up the contrast in my test shots but it was all but impossible to see this in evenly balanced photographs.
I was very pleased with the A400’s ability to deal with high contrast and tricky lighting conditions. Almost all my test shots were accurately exposed and skin tones were generally natural. White balance was also very accurate even in mixed lighting situations, but strangely the A400 struggled most with tungsten lighting, the most popular light source and one most cameras have little trouble with. However, there is a custom white balance setting that allows you to calibrate the A400 to the levels recorded from, for instance, a sheet of white paper.
Close-up photography in natural light was impressive with the A400 able to focus accurately down to a distance of just five centimetres. Even using the flash in macro mode generally resulted in pleasing exposures though certain subjects led to burnt out images due to the camera’s inability to quench the flash effectively.
A minimum shutter speed of just one second and no bulb setting make the A400 a less than ideal choice for extreme low-light photography. That said, when combined with the fastest ISO 400 setting most situations can be handled, if at the expense of greatly increased noise. The A400 implements an automatic noise-reduction system when long exposures are made but at higher ISO levels it became fairly ineffective. A major hindrance to low-light photography is that the image in the LCD display doesn’t automatically “gain up” which makes composition and accurate focus confirmation extremely difficult.
On the whole I initially found the A400’s menu navigation to be a rather clumsy ordeal but once you get to grips with the way they scroll both horizontally and vertically they become far more intuitive. The menus are a little slow to respond too, but when you take into account the A400’s overall performance and reasonable feature set, and then balance those against its price, there’s no doubt it will appeal to many users looking for a capable and compact digital camera for everyday use.
Anyone with a grounding in traditional photography may find the lack of control over the picture taking process limiting, but for almost anyone else the A400 manages to combine the virtues of point-and-shoot with the image quality of cameras many times the price, all in a small, sleek body. The lack of a genuine wide-angle end to the zoom range and weak performance in low light takes the shine off an otherwise excellent showing. Were it not for the existence of the slightly more expensive but better specified PowerShot A-75, the A400 would have landed itself a recommended award.