Check out an examination of photo quality from the PowerShot A1200, Canon's entry-level 12-megapixel compact camera with an optical viewfinder and powered by AA batteries.
The photo quality from the A1200 is very good for the money, particularly at and below ISO 200. At ISO 400, a sensitivity regularly used for shooting indoors without flash, photos look softer, but noise and noise suppression are well balanced making 4x6 prints possible. There is a noticeable increase in noise at ISO 800 resulting in faint yellow blotches and colors start getting slightly washed out. They're still pleasing enough for Web use at small sizes. However, everything that happens at ISO 800 increases at 1,600; use it for when you absolutely need to control motion blur and don't have a enough light or can't use the flash. Basically, this camera is great with a lot of light and very good indoors with bright lighting and/or a flash, but I wouldn't recommend it for regularly shooting in low-light conditions.
If you like to shoot close-ups, the A1200 can focus as close as 1.2 inches from a subject. The 12-megapixel resolution allows you to inspect fine details, but they're still a little soft and could use some sharpening with photo-editing software.
The f2.8 aperture is larger than on many competing cameras and does let you create a shallow depth of field. More importantly, though, you can use a slightly lower ISO when shooting indoors or in dimmer lighting.
Color performance is excellent from the A1200: bright, vivid, and accurate. Exposure is also very good. Highlights will blow out on occasion. The auto white balance indoors is a little warm, but otherwise it's good and you can always take advantage of the presets or manual white balance if you're not happy with the results.
The A1200's lens goes from a wide 28mm to 112mm (35mm equivalent), a 4x zoom. Mostly, it allows for better framing opportunities without adding bulk or cost or degrading photo quality. Keep in mind, this camera doesn't have optical image stabilization, so if you're using the zoom, you'll definitely want to steady yourself or take advantage of the optical viewfinder.
There is slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the A1200's lens (top) and maybe a hint of it with the lens in telephoto, too. Center sharpness is very good, and though it softens a touch as you move out, it was still remarkably consistent edge to edge and in the corners compared with other budget cameras I've tested. Also, there was very little fringing in high-contrast areas of photos.
Canon's i-Contrast feature does a good job of rescuing shadow detail. The left photo is with it off, the right with it on Auto. However, you can also use it in playback and you actually get more control over the amount applied.
The new Live View Control mode allows you to adjust brightness, color, and tone with onscreen sliders and see what the photo will look like as you make the changes. The top photo was taken with all settings set to the middle. For the bottom photo I decreased brightness and tone slightly and increased the color to make it more vivid. All other settings are handled automatically, which is kind of a shame, but understandable given it's an A-series camera. (Note: These photos were taken with the Canon PowerShot A3300 IS and are only for demonstration of the shooting mode.)
If you want to experiment even more with your photos, Canon has dedicated a full spot on the mode dial to housing its Creative Effects options. These include a Toy Camera Effect (left from top to bottom: standard, warm, and cool), Monochrome, Super Vivid, and Poster Effect (right from top to bottom). (Note: These photos were taken with the Canon PowerShot A3300 IS and are only for demonstration of the shooting mode.)