The A540 has a lot of very useful features, including aperture priority with a range of F2.6 to F8.0, shutter priority with a range of 15 secs to 1/2000th, and full manual exposure, all of which are very simple to use. Also available are auto, portrait, landscape and night shooting program modes. It has stitch assist for composite panoramas, and a good movie mode capable of shooting at 640 x 480 resolution at 30 frames per second.
The manual focus option is nicely implemented, with the centre section of the monitor display magnified and a range indicator along the top of the frame. Unfortunately, although the monitor is quite large, its resolution is only 85,000 pixels, which makes it difficult to accurately judge when the picture is sharp.
Also on the menu is a range of colour adjustments, including presets for vivid colour, neutral colour, sepia, positive film, lighter and darker skin tones, as well as a custom colour setting with manual adjustments for contrast, sharpness, saturation, colour balance and skin tone.
The A540 can accept a number of optional adapter lenses via a bayonet mount hidden under the removable lens bezel, and a waterproof case is also available.
There are some features found on higher end Canon models that are notable by their absence though, such as an adjustable focus point, adjustable flash level, slow sync flash and an interval timer, although it does have a self timer with a manually adjustable delay.
One thing that I really must mention is the manual, or rather the lack of it. All you get in the box is a 23-page basic guide, enough to make sure you don’t accidentally set the camera on fire or fill it with warm soapy water by mistake. The full 139-page manual is included on CD-ROM as a PDF file. Canon and a few other companies do this to save money, since manuals in a number of languages can be included on the same disk, but it really does a disservice to the user. If you’re out shooting with your A540, which is after all a fairly complex camera, and you need to look something up in the manual, what are you supposed to do? Carry a laptop around with you? I suppose you could print the manual out yourself, but spending £15 on printer ink just to save Canon a few pence in printing costs seems like a bit of a swizz to me.