Tradition dictates that anyone looking for a really compact Canon should buy themselves an IXUS. That line has recently returned to its roots, in the shape of the , with its sharp corners, glossy finish and truly compact body. Already, though, it's facing competition from within the Canon camp, in the shape of the PowerShot A4000 IS.
This sibling rival is just 10mm longer, 3mm taller and 4mm fatter. Although its lens provides only an 8x zoom against the IXUS' 12x, it's less expensive and boasts 60 per cent more pixels on its sensor.
The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS can be bought from around £100 online.
Features and design
It's been designed very firmly with beginners in mind, with a dedicated help button on the back of the body that walks you through the various controls and explains what each one does.
There are two shooting modes -- auto and scene. The former lets you choose the size of your stills and movies, while the latter opens up a wider range of settings, including exposure (ISO 100 to ISO 1,600, plus an Auto setting), compensation (+/-2EV in 1/3EV steps), white balance, single or continuous shooting and three self-timer options.
Switching out of Auto lets you pick a scene mode, with dedicated shortcuts for portraits, low light and a fish eye effect, among others. These include a Live View Control that lets you adjust brightness, colour temperature and saturation using on-screen sliders.
The smartest mode is the face self-timer, which puts the camera into a regular timed shutter release but only starts to count down when it spots that a new face has entered the scene. This would let you pose your family while you took care of the camera, so you could then wander slowly into the scene to be included in the shot -- no more rushing in, as is the case with regular 2 or 10-second countdowns.
Naturally, all composing and reviewing is done on the 3-inch rear LCD screen. This is fine-grained and detailed and it updates smoothly, but you'll want to turn up the brightness as the halfway setting is tricky to see in bright, direct sunlight.
The lens is equivalent to a 28-224mm arrangement on a regular 35mm camera. That represents an 8x zoom at full telephoto, by which point the maximum available aperture is f/5.9, widening to f/3.0 as you zoom back out to wide angle. Both of these are pretty much what you'd expect in a camera of this size, but the inclusion of an 8x zoom in so compact a body is impressive and certainly increases the A4000 IS's appeal.
It's quick to find focus and the lens is sharp across the majority of the frame, but examining the corner of a shot reveals some fall off. This is caused by these parts of the lens having to bend the incoming light to the most extreme degree to focus it on the sensor. For that reason, it's not uncommon to see some degradation in the level of detail in the corners of an image, but its more pronounced here than I would have hoped.
Despite this, I didn't find chromatic aberration to be too great an issue. This is an unwanted colour fringing along sharp contrasts, caused by the lens not quite focusing each wavelength of incoming light in sync with the others.
It's evident on the branches of the tree in the shot below, but not to so obvious a degree to be cause for great concern.
Sensor and sensitivity
The sensor is a 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD delivering 4,608x3,456-pixel images. That's an awful lot of pixels on a small chip. Unfortunately, there is some noise evident in images, even at comparatively low sensitivities.
I performed my tests with the A4000 IS set to fully automatic, using the automatic white balance and sensitivity settings to emulate the way in which most of its intended users would shoot.
Even in bright, direct sunlight, it had a tendency to set its sensitivity at ISO 200 or higher. Consequently, there was some dappling.
The shot of the town hall below, for example, was initially exposed at ISO 200, and it's possible to make out noise in the brickwork and the white stone archways. When repeating the shot a couple of seconds later under identical conditions and without changing any settings, the A4000 IS increased its sensitivity to ISO 400 and the noise was more pronounced. The brickwork and tiles were less easy to make out in darker areas as the details were slightly smoothed.