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Canon PowerShot A70

Canon’s PowerShot A70 is a 3 megapixel mid-range digital camera with a 3X optical zoom, 16MB of memory and a surprising amount of manual control. Costing £299, it’s one of the pricier 3 megapixel / 3X zoom cameras, but you get an impressive level of features and quality for the money.

Like most mid-range digital cameras, the A70 sports a silver finish, although measuring 101 x 64 x 31mm and weighing 335g with batteries, it’s slightly larger and heavier than its rivals. Build quality is excellent though and in-use the A70 feels like a solid piece of equipment. Optional accessories include an AC adapter and a waterproof housing good to 40m.

Images are composed using the sharp crisp 1.5in screen or optical viewfinder. There’s plenty of shooting information on the screen, although you can opt for the image alone if desired. The built-in flash offers the basic on, off, auto or red-eye reduction modes.

The A70 is powered by four AA batteries, but rather than supplying rechargeables, Canon annoyingly bundles a set of disposable alkalines. Admittedly a set of four NiMH AAs and a charger would only cost an end-user around £15, but in this day and age it’s unforgivable not to supply them as standard, especially as the A70 is slightly pricier than its rivals to begin with. The lack of rechargeables is however about the only downside to the A70, and on the upside, it manages to last for an age with a fresh set of AAs.

The A70 features a 3X optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent range of 35-105mm. Its actual focal length is 5.4-16.2mm with an averagely bright focal ratio of f2.8~4.8. The lens extends 2cm during its three second power-up, and like most of its mid-range rivals, there’s a built-in lens cover which slides out automatically.

The A70’s standard close-up macro mode is a respectable 5cm, and there’s also a manual focus mode complete with distance bar, although there is no temporary magnification of the image to help during this process. Impressively for a mid-range camera, there’s also three optional lens converters available, offering 0.7X and 2.4X magnifications, along with a close-up adapter.

The A70 employs a (1/2.7in) 3 megapixel sensor which delivers images with a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 10 x 8in colour inkjet print. There’s three lower resolutions available, along with three levels of JPEG compression; like most mid-range cameras, there’s no RAW or uncompressed TIFF image mode.

Canon has fitted the A70 with a Type-I Compact Flash slot and supplied the camera with a 16MB card. Using the Superfine and Fine modes at the top resolution produces images measuring around 1.7 and 1MB respectively; this means you’ll squeeze on around nine or 16 pictures with each mode with the supplied memory.

A 12-position mode dial selects between Auto, Program, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority, along with the choice of five scene presets, a stitch-assist mode for making easy panoramic shots, and a movie mode which can capture up to 30 seconds of 640 x 480 video at 15fps with mono sound. Shutter speeds run between 15 seconds and 1/2000, and sensitivity is rated from 50 to 400 ISO. All-in-all, an impressive array of auto and manual features for a mid-range model.

The A70’s image quality is quite simply superb, with some of the best-looking pictures we’ve seen from a 3 megapixel camera. Images are smooth but packed with detail and virtually bereft of nasty digital artefacts. Canon’s DIGIC image processor also seems to coax an uncanny amount of tonal detail out of the sensor which other cameras simply fail to record.

The camera itself is jammed with features you’d be pleased to find on something costing much more, yet remains easy to use for beginners or those wanting the easy life. As already mentioned, the only criticism we can make is Canon is the lack of rechargeable batteries. This aside, the A70 is easily one of the best cameras under £300 and comes very highly recommended. If you’re willing to trade manual control for greater hand-holding though, consider Nikon’s 3100.

Verdict

Canon’s A70 is packed with the sort of features, control and flexibility you’d expect from a more expensive camera, and superb image quality to match. It’s fine for beginners, yet offers enough manual control for a photographer to experiment and grow. The absence of rechargeable batteries is almost unforgivable, but it’s testament to how good the A70 is that we still believe it’s the best camera you can buy for under £300.

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