The camera’s general performance is also very good. It starts up in well under two seconds, and takes about another two seconds to shut down again. In single shot mode at maximum quality the shot-to-shot cycle time is also around two seconds. The flash is a little slow to recharge, taking between six and eleven seconds per shot depending on the situation, but it makes up for this with excellent exposure control, especially at close range, and a wide angle range of approximately 3.5m at ISO 200. In continuous shooting mode the A720 IS does very well, shooting at a consistent 0.7 seconds per shot, which it appears to be able to maintain until the memory card is full. According to the information on the monitor, a freshly-formatted 1GB SD card is enough to hold 286 pictures at maximum size and quality, but I suspect that the actual figure may vary by quite a lot. The A720 IS has about the widest variation in JPEG file sizes I’ve ever seen, with photos taken at the highest setting varying from 2.4MB to 6MB depending on the content, although the average of around 4MB for a typical scene is about what I’d expect from a good 8MP camera.
As with some of Canon’s other AA-powered compacts, battery duration is a concern. My test sample was supplied with a pair of standard industrial alkaline batteries which faded out after about 150 shots, which is pretty much what Canon states in the camera’s specification. If you’re considering buying an A720, I’d suggest buying a couple of sets of NiMH rechargeables and a charger as well.
The A720 IS is clearly aimed at photographers who expect a bit more from their camera than a simple point-and-shoot snapshot can provide, and this naturally includes superior image quality. 8MP is about the optimum resolution for compact camera image quality at the moment, and the A720 performs better than most. The 6x zoom lens is particularly good, providing a huge amount of fine detail with good edge sharpness and very little barrel distortion at wide angle, although there is a little pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. Dynamic range is very good considering the small 1/2.5-inch sensor, with excellent shadow and highlight detail even in very high contrast shots, and colour reproduction is typically superb. Noise control is also well above average, with very good image quality at 800 ISO, and usable results even at the maximum setting of 1600 ISO. All in all, an excellent performance from a very accomplished camera.
The Canon PowerShot A720 IS is an ideal camera for anyone who wants a bit more creative control than most pocket compacts can provide, and would be an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn more about photography. Build quality, design and performance are all first rate, image quality is superb and the range of features is hard to match at the price. Battery duration could be a problem, but the ready availability of AA batteries offsets this somewhat.
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