At 5 megapixels, the Canon PowerShot A610 doesn't have the pixel punch of the pricier Canon PowerShot A620, but that is where the difference ends. Just like its sibling, the PowerShot A610 packs a lot of muscle into its compact body. A 4X optical zoom, full manual controls, a long list of scene modes, and above-average performance and image quality make this camera a perfect match for snapshot photographers and enthusiasts who want it all for a competitive price.
Like the PowerShot A620, this camera weighs in at 11.5 ounces with four AA batteries and an SD/MMC card installed. The A610 also features the same 2-inch vari-angle LCD, with most controls sitting within easy reach to the right of the bright and clear monitor. A sliding switch allows quick changes between capture and playback, while four buttons--EV/delete, print/share, display, and menu--are positioned above and below the four-way controller. Flash and focusing modes, as well as manual setting adjustments, are accessed via the four-way controller, but most of the action is associated with the center Function button. With the function button's quick access to ISO, white balance, drive mode, effects, flash, exposure compensation, metering, resolution, and compression, there's little reason to go into the main menu after the initial setup.
A wide variety of shooting modes provides options for photographers at all skill levels. And whether you choose auto, program, full manual, or a scene mode, the Canon PowerShot A610 is very user friendly and straightforward. Beyond shooting modes, the A610 offers custom white balance, a nice selection of creative color options, low sharpening, sepia and black-and-white effects, and three metering choices. Perhaps two of the most practical features are the ability to layer a grid over the LCD to keep horizons and other edges aligned and the ability to manually move the autofocus point. A Safety Shift feature in aperture- and shutter-priority modes makes sure that your manually set apertures and shutter speeds will result in a good exposure, and you can save your settings so that you won't have to start over each time you power up the camera.
If you like to shoot video clips with your still camera, you won't be disappointed with the PowerShot A610's VGA movies with sound at 30fps. Unlike most cameras in the A610's class, it's compatible with a number of optional accessories, including an underwater housing that's good to a depth of 130 feet; wide, telephoto, and macro lenses; and a higher-powered flash.
Thanks to Canon's Digic II processing, the PowerShot A610 is a little faster than earlier A-series models, such as the A95. And while this camera won't blow away all of the competition, it performs well, with a start-up-to-first-shot time of slightly less than 2 seconds. Without the flash engaged, the A610 also paused for less than 2 seconds between shots, adding a little more than a second when we used the flash. Continuous shooting was quick at 2.5fps and 2.7fps (high-quality and low-quality, respectively) with a large buffer allowing us to capture more than 50 images without slowing down.
The Canon PowerShot A610 gave us the image quality we've come to expect from the company's A-series cameras. Our test photos were sharply focused, with plenty of detail, accurate and pleasing colors, and, with the exception of a few overexposed highlights, excellent exposure metering.
Our indoor images without flash were cooler than the results we've gotten in the past from Canon A-series cameras, leading us to believe that the automatic white balance has been adjusted to produce a more realistic look. Unless you love the orange look, that's a good thing. However, outdoor low-light shots with automatic white balance seemed to be a little cooler (that is, bluer) too, so perhaps Canon has overcompensated a bit.
We saw little noise at low ISO settings and acceptable visual noise levels at higher ISOs. There was less purple fringing than we've noticed in photos from some A-series cameras in the past, which may be the result of the Canon PowerShot A610's G-series lens.