Canon's A-series cameras have a long tradition of providing solid performance and impressive but not over-the-top feature sets at a reasonable price. In the past, that has often come with a slightly utilitarian design, but Canon's newest addition, the PowerShot A710 IS, looks practically classy, with its gently curved top; shiny, silver-plastic accents; and curved, dark-plastic section on its grip. Add to that the fact that it has a 6X optical, 35mm to 210mm (35mm equivalent), an f/2.8-to-f/4.8 zoom lens with optical image stabilization, a 7.1-megapixel CCD sensor, and a bunch of manual controls, and you've got one heck of a nice feature set for a camera in its price class.
Fans of the A series will note that the camera's grip isn't as large as some of the others' in the line, mostly because the A710 IS is powered by two AA batteries instead of four. This makes for a more pocketable design, and Canon still rates battery life at 360 images with NiMH batteries and 100 with alkalines. With a good pair of AA rechargeables, you should be able to use the camera for a weekend without running out of juice. Despite the smaller grip, the camera is still very one-hand-shooting friendly with all camera controls in easy reach of your right hand's fingers and thumb. Our only design criticism is the location of the SD card slot. As in a lot of cameras, it's tucked next to the batteries, which means that you'll have to be careful not to let the batteries fall out when switching cards. At least the spring-loaded slot pushes the card far up, so it's easy to remove.
Features are similar to those of the PowerShot A700, another camera in Canon's line. Standouts include controls for manual exposure and aperture and shutter priority, as well as flash compensation, which lets you roll back flash output power, and second-curtain flash, which fires the flash as the shutter closes so that moving objects don't end up with trails in front of them when you're using the flash. This happens a lot when shooting cars at night; with second-curtain flash, the headlights end up with slight trails behind them instead of looking like laser beams. Of course, if you like the laser look, you can also choose first-curtain (a.k.a. normal) flash, which is the default.
As you might expect, there are also many choices for tweaking your pictures, including 11 color modes, one of which lets you create your own by setting contrast; saturation; sharpness; red, green, and blue levels; and skin tone brightness. You can also use Color Accent mode to turn all but a selected color to black and white--perfect for making cutesy pictures of flowers in which only the petals are in color. Along similar lines, Color Swap lets you trade one color for another.