The A720 IS has a small but comfortable handgrip on the right, with plenty of room for your thumb on the back, and the handling is very good. All of the controls are gathered on the right-hand side of the body, and positioned for easy one-handed use. Playback or capture modes are selected by a simple slider switch on the upper right, zoom control is a rotary bezel around the shutter release, while main shooting mode selection is via a large knurled dial on the top which can be turned with the thumb. The A720 ISO has a good range of shooting options, including the shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual exposure modes that will appeal to more experienced photographers. Apertures can be selected between the maximum of f/2.8-4.8 and the minimum of f/8 in 1/3EV intervals, and shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/1500th of a second are also available in 1/3EV steps. This is a much wider range of control than many compacts that offer manual exposure.
As well as the manual modes, the camera also offers program auto, a simple full auto mode in which most of the menu options are disabled, and five scene program options. There is also a scene mode that offers a further seven special programs, including an underwater mode for use with the optional diving case. The video mode is fairly standard, offering VGA resolution at 30fps. The A720 IS has Canon’s usual function button menu, providing quick access to most commonly used shooting options, including ISO setting, white balance, colour mode, flash output, metering mode, compression quality and image size. It is much the same selection as is offered by most of Canon’s compact camera range, and is more than enough to cope with most situations, as well as providing some welcome creative control. The main menu offers even more options, such as a range of focusing modes including face detection, AiAF, centre and flexible positioning. Flash sync can be set to first or second curtain, and there are monitor grid overlays for both rule-of-thirds and 3:2 composition. The image stabilisation can be set to operate continuously, only on shooting, or limited to vertical stabilisation only for panning shots. One omission is variable noise reduction, but you can’t expect too much from a sub-£200 camera.
The 2.5-inch LCD monitor isn’t terribly sharp at only 115k pixels, but it does have Canon’s usual anti-glare coating and is bright enough to use in full sunlight. It is advertised as having a wide angle of view, and they’re not kidding. The image on the screen can be seen clearly from almost any angle, making it ideal for holding the camera over your head at concerts, and for showing the resulting pictures to your no doubt admiring friends afterwards. Compact cameras that have viewfinders are something of a dying breed, and often the viewfinders they do have are so small as to be virtually useless, but the A720’s finder is actually very good. It is nice and bright, with good optical quality, is mechanically linked to the zoom lens, and provides about 80 percent frame coverage. It is a good alternative to the monitor if you want to stretch your battery life as much as possible.