How’s about a review of an affordable camera? I’ve just posted my review of the Canon PowerShot A480, Canon’s latest entry-level offering with 10 megapixels, a 2.5 inch screen and VGA movie mode. You can also view pictures taken by the camera in the Canon PowerShot A480 photo gallery.
DPInterface Canon PowerShot A480 Review
Brad Soo – March 30th, 2009
At the beginning of this year, Canon announced their latest basic and affordable PowerShot camera; the A480. The PowerShot A480 is the first camera in Canon’s entry-level series to receive a design make-over since the days of the A430. The camera has been made less bulky and now looks more sleek and appealing to the mass market.
Then there’s the usual increase in resolution, new zoom lens, DIGIC III processor and a few new features sprinkled here and there. I thought the old A470 offered good value for its price and features but there was still some room for improvement. Will the A480 succeed in being a better camera than its predecessor, and the competition?
Size and Weight
(185.2) 92.1 x 62.0 x 31.1 mm (140 g) – Canon PowerShot A480
(171.0) 97.0 x 56.0 x 18.0 mm (100 g) – Casio Exilim S5
(173.7) 91.5 x 60.5 x 21.7 mm (130 g) – Fujifilm FinePix A150
(164.4) 91.0 x 56.0 x 17.4 mm (97 g) – Fujifilm FinePix J20
(173.2) 95.5 x 58.5 x 19.2 mm (115 g) – Kodak EasyShare M340
(163.0) 89.5 x 55.5 x 18.0 mm (100 g) – Nikon Coolpix S220
(168.0) 91.0 x 57.0 x 20.0 mm (115 g) – Nikon Coolpix S230
(166.6) 93.0 x 55.8 x 17.8 mm (108 g) – Olympus FE3010
(173.3) 96.1 x 56.6 x 20.6 mm (130 g) – Olympus FE5010
(188.5) 96.7 x 62.0 x 29.8 mm (128 g) – Panasonic Lumix LS85
(181.0) 97.5 x 60.0 x 23.5 mm (110 g) – Pentax Optio E70
(172.7) 93.1 x 55.7 x 23.8 mm (135 g) – Sony Cyber-shot S950
All the weight figures above show when the camera is empty without a battery or memory card
In terms of size and weight, the Canon PowerShot A480 is somewhere in the middle of the group. Compared to its predecessor, the A480 is smaller and will fit into your pocket more willingly with its slimmer design.
The Canon PowerShot A480 comes with an average bundle:
- 2 AA alkaline batteries
- Wrist strap
- 128 MB Secure Digital memory card
- USB and A/V cables
- Camera software CD (Digital Camera Solution Disk)
- User’s manual and quick start guide
Hey, what do you know… Canon introduces change in some of their A-series cameras. Remember the times when Canon used to bundle ridiculously tiny 16 or 32 MB memory cards with their cameras? Nowadays, you either don’t get one (means you’ll have to supply your own) or you get a basic 128 MB “starter” memory card. Well, with the A480, it’s the latter – you’ll find a 128 MB SD card in the box with the camera. That’ll hold roughly 40 full-resolution, Fine photos which is somewhat reasonable and fine for a few pictures when you go outside.
If you expect to be out the whole day taking pictures, or video, or don’t want to constantly have to download your photos to your computer, then you’ll need a larger memory card. The Canon PowerShot A480 takes SD/SDHC memory cards and I’d recommend getting at least a 2 GB card with the camera. If you want the camera to write and perform slightly faster, you might want to consider a high speed memory card.
470 shots – Canon PowerShot A480
150 shots – Fujifilm FinePix A150
165 shots – Fujifilm FinePix J20
320 shots – Kodak EasyShare M340
180 shots – Nikon Coolpix S220
160 shots – Nikon Coolpix S230
180 shots – Olympus FE5010
550 shots – Panasonic Lumix LS85
620 shots – Pentax Optio E70 (Using lithium batteries)
330 shots – Sony Cyber-shot S950
All the cameras above are rated with rechargeable batteries with LCD on according to CIPA Standard
Just like previous A-series cameras, the Canon PowerShot A480 uses 2 AA batteries for power and comes with two alkaline ones, which are not rechargeable. They’re rated to about 200 shots before they run out and you’ll need to throw them away. So, I’d suggest getting a set of two or four AA NiMH rechargeable batteries with a decent charger (those with two charging modes: trickle and fast charge, would be good). With a set of rechargeable AA batteries, the Canon PowerShot A480 can last up to 470 shots per charge (CIPA Standard) which is above average for a compact camera.
There are just two types accessories available for the Canon PowerShot A480 – an AC adapter and various camera cases.
The Canon PowerShot A480 features a more conventional rectangular design versus the elongated shape of the A470. The A480 is now a smaller and slightly slimmer camera; along with that comes SOME improvements in the ergonomics & usability department such as the new dedicated zoom controller. You don’t get a mode dial any more though – that’s been replaced in favor of a mode button and dedicated playback button. One place where ergonomics are down is button labeling – the buttons DO have labels but they’re not clearly viewable in some conditions (ie outdoors).
Despite the affordable price tag, the PowerShot A480 is decently constructed and doesn’t feel ‘cheap’ in hand. The camera is available in your choice of four colors: silver, black, blue or red.
The Canon PowerShot A480 features the a new 3.3X optical zoom lens, equivalent to 37 – 122 mm and aperture range of f3.0 – f5.8, which is a slower than a normal lens and about average for an entry-level camera lens. There’s no optical image stabilization on the A480’s lens unfortunately.
To the upper right of the front is the A480’s flash unit. Its range hovers a tad below average, covering 30 cm to 3 m at wide-angle and that goes down to 2 m at max at telephoto; both numbers are at Auto ISO. Below the flash is the PowerShot A480’s autofocus assist/self-timer lamp. To the other side of the flash is the camera’s microphone.
One thing that hasn’t changed since its predecessors is the 2.5 inch LCD screen on the Canon PowerShot A480. This LCD is a little low in terms of resolution – with just 115,000 pixels, the low resolution is noticeable in some cases, especially low-light. Speaking of low-light, at least you can still see what you’re framing in those conditions since the screen image brightens up (and it does become a bit grainy, as you’d expect). In bright light, visibility was about average, depending very much on how bright it is and viewing angle (ideally, you need to view the screen head-on to clearly see what’s on it).
The Canon PowerShot A480 lacks an optical viewfinder, something that’s not very common on most compact cameras nowadays, since most people tend to use LCDs on their point-and-shoots. Presumably, it’s also to keep the camera’s cost and design complexity down as well.
All of the Canon PowerShot A480’s buttons and controls are located to the right of the LCD screen. One of my quirks here is the buttons’ labels are not printed visibly on them. The first item of note is at the very top: a small camera activity/power indicator light. Your right thumb is able to rest nicely on the new dedicated zoom controller below that (the old A-series used the UP/DOWN buttons on the navigation pad for zoom).
The camera also has a dedicated playback button, which you can use for quickly accessing playback mode without extending the lens. We’ll head on to the five way navigation pad now, used for the usual menu navigation and access to five direct functions:
- Up – ISO (Auto, Auto high, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)/Playback jump
- Down – Self-timer (Off, on [10 seconds, 2 seconds, custom])
- Left – Focus mode (Normal, macro, landscape)
- Right – Flash setting (Auto, on, off; red-eye reduction and slow sync are turned on/off in the menu)
- Center – Function menu/Set
And this is the A480’s function menu, which is opened up by hitting the center button on the camera’s navigation pad:
- Exposure compensation (+/-2 EV in 1/3 steps)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- My Colors (Normal, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, custom)
- Metering method (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
- Drive mode (Single shot, continuous shooting)
- Image size and compression
The custom option in the My Colors/Photo Effects area enables you to manually tweak contrast, saturation and sharpness. Be thankful that the PowerShot A480 has custom white balance here – that’s great, considering you’ll find this on few entry-level cameras. It’s also the only other “manual control” you’ll get on this camera besides long exposure control.
The last two buttons are the MODE button and MENU button. The MODE button brings up an on-screen menu for you to select between automatic shooting, program mode (unlocks all the options in the function menu above), scene and movie modes.
The top of the Canon PowerShot A480 is simple. There’s the camera’s power on/off button as well as its shutter button.
Over here is the PowerShot A480’s speaker.
Turn to the other side of the Canon PowerShot A480 and there’s the wrist strap loop. There are also ports for USB and A/V Out connectivity as well as a DC-IN port for the optional AC adapter.
At the bottom of the camera is the battery/memory card compartment and plastic tripod mount. No qualms with the fairly sturdy compartment door here… just that there isn’t a battery clip to prevent the batteries from falling out when you’re swapping memory cards.
Taking pictures (Shooting mode)
On the PowerShot A480’s display, you can view camera settings, exposure info (shutter speed and aperture) and optional framing gridlines (a 3:2 guide, 3 X 3 grid or both). There’s no battery indicator or live histogram though.
The PowerShot A480 has a few image resolutions for you to select from, including full 10 MP, 6 MP, 4 MP, 2 MP, VGA and widescreen. There are just two image compression modes here: Fine and Standard. A 2 GB memory card will hold around 750 full-res Fine, 10 megapixel pictures.
Most of the camera’s main settings can be adjusted via the Function menu I described in the previous section, but now let’s head on to the other settings in the camera’s main menu:
- Autofocus mode (Face detection, center AF)
- AF point size (Normal, small) – Choose how size of the camera’s focusing point area
- Digital zoom – you should keep this turned off, it lowers picture quality
- AF point zoom – magnify the area the camera focused on
- AF assist beam
- Flash settings – toggle red-eye reduction (lamp and software based) and slow sync
- Shooting info (Simple, detailed) – toggle the amount of information shown on-screen
- Review – This option decides whether the camera will show the image on the LCD screen right after the picture is taken
- Review info
- Display overlay – Toggle grid lines, 3:2 guide, both or none
The Canon PowerShot A480 is good at taking macro shots. At wide-angle, you can go as close as 3 cm to your subject; and down to 25 cm at telephoto. In terms of scene modes, there is a handful here on the A480; they are: portrait, foliage, snow, beach, sunset, fireworks, aquarium, long shutter, super macro, indoor, kids & pets and night snapshot. The long shutter “scene mode” allows you to choose a slow shutter speed anywhere from 1 to 15 seconds for night shots.
The PowerShot A480 features Canon’s plain vanilla VGA movie mode, which records at 30 FPS with sound. There’s a Long Play option which still records at the same VGA resolution and frame rate but more compression is applied to keep file sizes down. You can also lower resolution to QVGA (320 X 240) at 30 FPS for even longer movies. There’s a limit of up to 4 GB or 60 minutes per movie clip, whichever comes first.
Movies are recorded in Motion JPEG format and a 2 GB memory card will hold 16 minutes worth of movies at the highest settings. You can the camera’s 4X digital zoom while recording but not optical zoom. In terms of video quality, it was generally good and practical for most uses (like home videos).
All performance testing of the Canon PowerShot A480 was performed using a high-speed 4 GB SanDisk Ultra II SDHC (90X) card.
As the most basic model in Canon’s 2009 camera lineup, the PowerShot A480 runs on the DIGIC III imaging processor (versus DIGIC 4 on more expensive models). That doesn’t mean the camera performs slowly though, as DIGIC 4 only seems to bring extra bells-and-whistles like iContrast to Canon’s compacts.
The Canon PowerShot A480 starts up quickly in just 1.2 seconds. Focusing times were good as well; the camera typically takes 0.2 to 0.5 seconds most of the time in decently lit areas. In low-light, it can take up to 1 to 1.5 seconds to auto focus, and the camera manages to lock focus in the end.
- Shot-to-shot speed – 1 shot every 1.6 seconds, above average
- Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery – 6 seconds on average
One other area where the PowerShot A480’s performance isn’t as hot is continuous shooting. The camera is able to take pictures continuously at full-resolution; at 0.8 frames per second until the memory card fills up.
The camera’s lens moves from wide-angle to telephoto in just one second with very few steps throughout the zoom range. The Canon PowerShot A480’s performance is fairly good for an entry-level camera, though continuous shooting could’ve been faster.
Now, let’s take a look at the Canon PowerShot A480’s image quality:
The Canon PowerShot A480 produced very usable image quality at ISO 80 and 100. Noise goes up at ISO 200 and the maximum you would want to go would be ISO 400. At this point pictures are still useful for small to medium prints. Images become too noisy and suffer from a lot of detail loss at ISO 800 and ISO 1600.
Lens distortion was low on the PowerShot A480 and edge softness was not much of an issue. However, chromatic aberration (color fringing) was noticeable in many cases, particularly in extreme contrast situations. Redeye removal was not an issue because the camera’s software based redeye removal method is very effective.
The Canon PowerShot A480 produced good quality images as of whole. Naturally, compared to its predecessor, the A480’s extra megapixels cause it to have more noise. However noise levels are still comparable or less than other entry-level cameras.
Check out full-sized, unedited photos taken straight out of the camera in the Canon PowerShot A480 photo gallery.
The Canon PowerShot A480 has a basic playback mode – basic in the sense that all the core features are here but of course, there are no fancy editing features or “Shake Control”. You can browse through pictures (complete with two transition effects of your choice) and play back video with sound. Basic playback functions such as print marking, voice clip attachment, image resizing and rotation are all here. You can magnify still photos by 10X and pan around using the 4 navigational buttons.
You can play back the A480’s pictures as one-by-one, in sets of nine thumbnails or automatically using the slideshow feature. You can also use the JUMP feature to skip several photos at a time or to ‘jump’ right to a specific shooting date.
There’s a redeye removal tool here in playback mode so you can manually remove redeye if you want (the camera also can do it automatically in shooting mode as the shot is taken). You can choose to delete single photos and all photos on the A480 but you can’t select multiple photos yourself and delete them.
The Canon PowerShot A480 shows you shooting details, mode, exposure information (with shutter speed and aperture value) and a histogram. An overexposure warning feature makes overexposed areas of your photos “blink” to alert you of them.
The Canon PowerShot A480 is a 10 megapixel entry-level camera which I can recommend. There’s a 3.3X optical zoom lens, very good battery life, a 2.5 inch LCD with good visibility and point-and-shoot operation with a good amount of scene modes. The camera comes with a decent “starter” memory card which is useful for beginners (but not huge or sufficient for everyone).
The PowerShot A480 takes everything that made the old A470 great, throws in 2 additional megapixels and a new, sleeker design. The camera also has a nice macro mode and improved VGA 30 FPS movie mode (up from 20 FPS). Unfortunately, it also shares some of its predecessor’s downsides; namely the LCD lacking resolution and no optical image stabilization.
Performance on the A480 was snappy too; save for the drop in continuous shooting frame rate thanks to the larger file sizes here. Image quality was overall good – pictures are usable till ISO 400, there’s redeye removal and low distortion. I did notice some color fringing, however, so take note.
The Canon PowerShot A480 is one of the best entry-level/budget cameras out there – good image quality, movie mode, performance and battery life with very little compromise. The camera’s cons: low LCD resolution, slow continuous shooting mode and lack of optical image stabilization are in fact ‘cons’ that all low cost cameras share.
- Good image quality till ISO 400; effective redeye removal and low distortion
- Good LCD visibility in low and bright light
- Decent sized “starter” memory card
- Above average battery life
- Fast performance (except continuous shooting)
- Very good macro mode and decent VGA 30 FPS movie mode
- Long shutter mode and custom white balance
- No manual controls
- No optical image stabilization
- Slow continuous shooting mode
- Low LCD resolution
- Some visible color fringing
- 2 GB high-speed SD memory card
- Set of 2 or 4 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger