The PowerShot A70 is much more than just a 3.2-megapixel version of its predecessor, the A40. Although it has the same 3X zoom, 35mm-to-105mm (35mm-camera equivalent) lens, the A70 sports a slimmed-down design, additional manual controls, three video-capture resolutions, improved performance, and other useful extras. Its full set of features might overwhelm newbies, but photographers on a budget who like to fiddle with exposure settings will be happy campers. At 11.3 ounces with four bundled AA alkaline batteries and a 16MB CompactFlash card installed, the Canon PowerShot A70's leaner profile helps shave a couple ounces off the preceding generation of A-series cameras. The large, gray-plastic grip, which complements the brushed-silver aluminum body, provides a comfortable and solid handhold.
Overall, we like this PowerShot's functional, efficient design. There's a dedicated switch for toggling between capture and playback modes, and the shooting-mode dial clicks firmly into place, so there's no danger of accidental shifts. At first glance, the basic external controls don't seem to match the A70's extensive set of features. To conserve real estate, Canon tucks just below the LCD a function button that provides quick access to almost every feature, from adjusting white balance to powering down the flash--a boon for experienced photographers.
Even though this camera has a wealth of features, the A70 is extremely easy to use. You'll have no trouble navigating the straightforward menu system on the rare occasions that call for it--to turn on the red-eye reduction, for example, or to customize or (better yet) turn off the sounds the camera makes. As you scroll through options or change settings via the function button, each feature is clearly labeled.
We have a few design gripes, however. Although the A70's LCD provides bright and clear coverage indoors and out, we really dislike the slick silver frame surrounding the display. The mirrored finish works for picking stray poppy seeds out of your teeth after your morning bagel, but that's about it. In bright light, the frame's highly reflective surface becomes downright maddening. The CompactFlash card slot is well placed on the side of the camera, but the plastic cover has that just-waiting-to-break feel. Minor cavils: The power button sits flush with the top of the camera and is sometimes difficult to locate except by eye, and you must manually power on the A70 to play back images.
The A70's display shows a lot of information you rarely see on inexpensive cameras.
As with an increasing number of snapshot models, the A70 supports a 640x480 VGA movie mode with audio, in addition to 160x120 and 320x240. The camera is capable of shooting clips of up to 3 minutes at 15 frames per second (fps) at one of the two lower resolutions but is limited to 30 seconds in VGA.
Alkaline batteries last a surprisingly long time in the A70, but we still recommend buying nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) rechargeables for the longest life.
The A70's five-point TTL autofocus system is fast and generally accurate. With the AiAF engaged, press the shutter halfway; rectangles in the LCD show you the chosen focus point. But the AF system didn't always focus where we wanted. Turning AiAF off allowed us to choose the central focal point, around which the camera selected the remaining four focus points. Thanks to the A70's powerful AF illuminator, dimly lit scenes posed no challenge for this PowerShot. Focusing took only a short beat longer than in bright sunlight, with equally accurate results.
We didn't expect much from the four AA alkaline batteries that ship with the camera, but they surprised us. After more than 100 high-resolution images, 41MB of video clips, and generous use of flash, we still had juice. Though we recommend using rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries for longest life, it's nice to know that the camera uses power so efficiently.
The camera's 3X optical zoom runs smoothly and at an average pace, so you won't zip past the desired focal length. We didn't notice much distortion at the telephoto end of the A70's range, but there was a bit of barreling in wide angle. With a range of 13.8 feet, the flash provided adequate coverage at that distance when left on its default setting, but powering down the flash helps for tighter shots.
We could capture only 15 to 20 seconds of VGA footage with sound instead of the maximum 30 seconds, and as with most digital cameras, the A70's movie and voice-notation audio won't win any awards. The Canon PowerShot A70 produces pleasing, properly exposed photos with a good dynamic range, although some other 3-megapixel cameras (albeit more expensive ones) deliver sharper pictures with more accurate colors. We're especially impressed with the camera's metering, which adeptly handles a variety of exposure situations--including snow, backlighting with and without flash, and bright light--delivering even results with a nice tonal distribution. Our test shots of flowers, for example, produced natural, well-saturated colors, even across a crocus petal's subtle gradient of white to purple.
Though displaying a good dynamic range and nicely saturated colors, the A70 tends to render reds slightly off-hue.
Under most circumstances--with the exception of under strong tungsten lights--the A70's auto white balance delivers good results and definitely shows improvement over the older A40, as well as increased saturation. Landscapes were equally accurate and well saturated, and auto white balance competently handled changing cloud cover. We did find the red hues visibly off, however. The photos look slightly sharper than those of other cameras in its class, but you'll have to move up to the next price class of 3-megapixel cameras (such as the PowerShot S series) for truly sharp photos and more accurate colors.
The A70's close-ups come out crisp, detailed, and evenly exposed.
Noise becomes apparent in the A70's photos starting with the ISO 100 setting.
Only minimal image noise and chromatic aberrations were visible in the A70's photos at ISO 50. We noticed some purple/blue fringing in tree limbs against the sky, but white flower petals against a dark bed of leaves transitioned cleanly. At the ISO 100 setting, however, there's a surprising amount of noise, which, as expected, gets significantly worse as you increase up to ISO 400.