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Canon Powershot A400 Digital Camera Review
Introduction: The Canon Powershot A400 is a compact 3MP digital camera with a 2.2x Optical zoom lens (5.9 - 13.2mm equivalent to 45mm - 100mm on a 35mm camera), and a 1.5" Colour TFT screen. The camera comes with a 16mb SD memory card, and can be upgraded with an additional SD card. The camera takes two AA batteries. The camera also records 640x480 videos at 10fps and 320x240 videos at 15fps with sound. The camera has a number of scene modes to make it easier to use. The camera can be bought for 109 from amazon.co.uk in the UK, and $159 from amazon.com in the US. The camera is compact with a size and weight as follows: Dimensions: 107.0 x 53.4 x 36.8 mm (excluding protrusions). Weight: 165g (without batteries or recording media).

The camera offers good value for money - being competitively priced for a compact 3mp, 2.2x optical zoom digital camera, it is one of the cheapest Canon digital cameras available.

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"From the Canon Visionary Technologies that deliver great shot after shot to the easy access special scene modes, everything about the PowerShot A400 is designed to make photography simple. A camera that takes the hard work out of super results, leaving you to focus on capturing the right moment. And with 3.2 Megapixels, you'll be delighted at the detail and quality of your digital images and photo prints."

You can find out more about the Canon Powershot A400 at Canon's website.

The Camera: It's compact and made out of shiney silver plastic.


Front - Camera off. Built in lens-cover - Flash, optical viewfinder, af-assist lamp / self-timer lamp, microphone, reflective circle to aid self-portraits.


Front - Camera on, lens extended.


Back - the 1.5" TFT screen, 4-way controller, SET button in the middle, playback/photo/scene/video control / button, zoom control, menu button, display, Func button. Optical viewfinder. Digital/USB socket, DC in, AV out under the rubber cover. Direct Print button.


Top - on/off, shutter release. Speaker.


Bottom, under the camera is the tripod mount which is in the middle of the camera.


Left Side (from back) - Nothing to see on this side.


On this side is the strap holder, battery and memory compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is quite a lot shorter (height), but roughly the same length and depth.


There is an optical viewfinder above the lens.


Size comparison

Specifications / Features:

  • Easy to use
  • 3.2 Megapixel sensor
  • 2.2x optical zoom, 3.2x digital zoom
  • Macro mode lets you focus on objects 5cm away from the lens
  • Canon Visionary Technology
  • 12 shooting modes (8 scene modes)
  • 1.5" Colour TFT Screen
  • 9-point AiAF
  • VGA movies with sound
  • PictBridge/Canon Direct Print compatible
  • Print/Share button
  • CANON iMAGE GATEWAY
  • Available in 4 colours (Green, Orange, Blue, Silver)
  • TV Out

Full Specifications can be found on the Canon site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • 16mb SD Memory Card
  • Wrist Strap
  • USB cable / TV AV Cable
  • Instruction manual (145 pages)
  • Software CD-Rom(s)
  • AA Batteries
  • Warranty card

Average box contents - it's a shame no case is included as standard, although it's good to see a decent manual.

Features / Options: The camera mode is selected using 4-way switch/dial:

The camera keeps things quite simple, in that there are 4 modes: playback mode, photo mode, scene mode and video mode.

The camera then has a Menu button, which is like the Setup menu on other cameras, and the Canon also has a Func button, which is like the normal menu's on other cameras and lets you change things like picture size and compression etc.

The menus available are: Rec. Menu, Setup, My Camera (video menu and playback menu are different to Rec. Menu)

Rec. Menu: Quick shot, AiAF, Red-eye, Self-timer, AF-assist beam, digital zoom, review, date stamp (available on postcard setting)
Play Menu: Protect, Rotate, Sound memo, Erase all, Auto play, Print order, Transfer order
Setup Menu: Mute, Volume, LCD brightness, Power saving, Date/Time, Format, File No. reset, Auto rotate (on/off), Language, Video
My Camera: Theme, Start-up image, start-up sound, operation sound, self-timer sound, shutter sound

The 'Func' menu options are: Mode (auto, manual, panoramic), Size (3mp etc), Compression (Superfine, Fine, Standard), Effect (Off, Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening (records images with softened outlines), Sepia, Black and White), ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400), White Balance (Various settings including custom), Exposure (+/- 2). These options are all applied whilst taking the photo and are limited in Auto mode and Scene mode.

The scenes available are (accessed by pressing Func): Portrait, Night scene, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Indoor.

Video Func options (accessed by pressing Func): Video size (640x, 320x, 160x), Effect (Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black and White), Exposure.
Video Menu options: AF-assist beam, Self-timer.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit in the 16mb provided memory: (an extra memory card is definitely recommended)

Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality / (Average file size)
  Superfine Fine Normal
3mp (2048 x 1536) 8 (1mb) 15 30
2mp (1600 x 1200) 13 (630kb) 24 (390kb) 46
1mp (1024 x 768) 23 (280kb) 42 74
VGA (640 x 480) 52 (127kb) 81 128
"Postcard" (1600 x 1200) - 24 (390kb) -
Movie 640x480/10fps 22seconds    
Movie 320x240/15fps 1minute 37seconds    

The "Postcard" setting appears to be equivelant to using the 2mp, Fine setting, but shows you the picture with a border at the top and bottom so that the photo appears with an aspect ratio of 3:2, although the picture when saved is still the usual 6 x 4.5 ratio.

You can't fit very many images on the provided 16mb memory card - a larger memory card is definitely needed, unless you want to use the lower megapixel settings and higher compression levels. There is a fairly good choice of image size and compression levels available, although no RAW or TIFF mode.

Speed, ease of use: The camera is easy to use, fairly quick to switch on and fairly quick to take photos, the dial on the back of the camera makes it easy to switch between the different modes. The screen updates are quick and smooth. The camera speed in use, seems quick to average when taking a photo, but shot to shot time is a bit slow, especially when using flash. The camera is quite compact, and fairly easily fits into pockets. The menus are fairly easy to pick up and use, and the modes are easy to access, the menus / func modes are a bit slow however, and it may take a while to get used to the seperate func / menu buttons. The continuous shooting mode isn't especially fast.

Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, in a good position and there seem to be just the right amount of buttons, not too many and not too few, although the Func/Menu buttons could be a bit confusing. The buttons feel good, my only complaint here is that they may seem a bit small for some people. They are also labelled well. The 4-option dial on the back is a big improvement over the Canon A300/A310, which simply had a play button to switch between play and photo mode.

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: Macro / Infinite Focus, Flash, Self timer / Continuous, Play/Photo/Scene/Video, Wide/Telephoto zoom, SET in the middle of the 4-way controller, Display. On the top is the On/Off button and the shutter button.

Battery usage: Canon say that you should be able to get 100 photos on average from alkaline AA batteries - 300 on average when using rechargable Ni-Mh batteries. As with all digital cameras high power rechargable batteries such as 2000+ mAh Ni-MH are highly recommended.


LCD display in photo mode: Mode, Metering / Focusing mode, Flash, Macro/Infinite Focus, Red-eye, Picture size and compression (bottom left), remaining pictures. Battery life only appears on screen when it is low.

LCD display in photo mode: The screen is very clear, and updates quite smoothly - the colours appear accurate. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, it also shows the battery level, current mode, plus other things, although unfortunately the camera does not show aperture / shutter speed and there is no live histogram.

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom can be used up to 10x. The playback zoom is very quick. You can also view the picture's histogram.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower 3 people Group photo

Inside: The camera has quite a powerful flash, and copes surprisingly well with group photos, especially considering the size of the flash. Red eye was noticable on most photos of people - Good accurate, realistic colours and details, really pleasing skin colours. The images are slightly soft - and could do with a sharpen.

Noise: Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise.

The camera has 5 modes for ISO: Auto, 50, 100, 200 or 400. To choose the ISO setting, you simply go into the FUNC menu.


Noise test picture (Flash off)

ISO50 - 100% ISO100 - 100%
ISO200 - 100% ISO400 - 100%

Noise levels at ISO50 and 100 are low - which means you get very smooth images. ISO200 still displays fairly acceptable noise levels. It is probably best avoiding ISO400 where possible, due to the noise looking quite horrible when viewed at 100%.

Outside:

Louisa and Autumn Trees Unisys Building New Flats

Again very good colour, they are accurate colours with low noise, I didn't notice jpeg artifacts in the images. Images are a tiny bit soft, and could do with a sharpen. The Unisys building photo was taken at the same time / day as the Unisys building photo in the Pentax Optio 33LF gallery.

Zoom: This camera has a 2.2x Optical zoom and a built in 3.2x Digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do.

Wide-angle 2.2x Optical zoom Full 2.2x Optical + 3.2x Digital

The digital zoom shows you on screen how much magnification you are using. It is quite quick. When using the optical zoom, it's quite quiet, and fairly quick, it has about 4 steps between wide and telephoto. The amount of optical zoom is displayed on screen numerically, when you get to 2.2x optical zoom.

Other Image Quality issues: Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing doesn't appear to be a problem on this camera.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is at full wide angle, and you can zoom in - you can also use the digital zoom - The camera can focus down to 5cm in macro mode, in wide-angle, and then you can zoom in closer so long as you move the camera away from the subject.

Macro - Timex Watch (wide-angle) Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro - Flat Eric Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is very good. You can use the flash in macro mode - the camera does a very good job of toning down the flash - most recent cameras tested managed to blow out all highlight detail taking a similar photo of flat eric. Colour and detail is very good (apart from white balance issues due to lighting in the macro watch photo), however they could do with sharpening in a photo editing package.

Movie: 640 x 480 - 10fps 320x240 - 15fps with sound - you can not use the digital zoom whilst recording a video, but you can zoom in using the optical / digital zoom before you start recording. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file. Length is limited to 30 seconds for VGA movies, and 3 minutes for 320 x 240 videos.


Gareth Robinson, St. Thomas Church - Download 320x240/15fps movie
Click here. (right click, save target as, 1.58mb AVI - saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is good - 640 x 480 is good but unfortunately the movies are limited to 30 seconds and only 10fps.

Conclusion

Image: Image quality is good - the images have accurate and pleasing colour, and good detail although images could do with a sharpen, unfortunately there is no option to increase sharpness in camera. Images have fairly low noise and there is very little purple fringing. Image compression doesn't seem to cause jpeg artifacts, and there is a good range of image sizes and compression options. The macro mode is very good. The flash didn't cause problems when the subject was too close. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be fairly good. The movie mode is good although limited in length and frame-rate.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact, and stylish. The screen updates smoothly and is very clear. The camera is easy to use, the menu / func systems fairly easy to use - but may take a while to get used to. The 2x optical zoom is good, but isn't very wide angle, so could put some people off. Camera handling, button layout and design are good. The camera speed is average in use and has a quick zoom, shot to shot time could be quicker. The built-in scene modes, automatic photo rotation, and panorama mode help make this camera easier to use as well. I really like the mode dial on this camera, this quickly and easily lets you switch between the different modes.

Alternative compact 3mp / 3x Optical zoom digital cameras: Yakumo Mega Image 37 (85), Pentax Optio 33L (105 from ebuyer.com - with swivel screen), Olympus C-310 (100), C-360 (130), Nikon Coolpix 3200 (125), Canon Powershot A75 (150), Kodak Easyshare DX6340 (4x Optical zoom, 135), CX7330 (118), Konica Minolta Dimage X31 (117), Fuji Finepix A330 (119). Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The Canon Powershot A400 is one of the cheaper 3 megapixel digital cameras with optical zoom, and one of the cheapest Canon digital cameras currently available. It has a clear 1.5" colour screen, and records videos with sound. The camera is quite compact and easy to use, more compact than the A300/A310 it replaces. Image quality is very good, with good detail, good colour, and low noise, although with some image softness. The movie mode is fairly average, recording 640 x 480, 10fps movies with sound - unfortunately these are limited to 30 seconds. The camera is very easy to use, and has some nice features such as scene modes, automatic photo rotation, and panorama mode. For around 109 (UK) $159 (US) from Amazon this camera offers excellent value for money. Overall, for someone looking for an easy to use, compact and stylish camera I would recommend this camera.

What I like:

  • Good image quality - excellent 'Canon' colour, smooth images
  • Automatically rotates portrait photos
  • Very good price
  • Very good macro mode
  • Slightly better than average movie mode with sound
  • Very clear screen
  • Impressive 9-point auto-focusing system.

What I don't like:

  • Slightly slow focusing / even with AF-assist lamp
  • Slow shot to shot time when using flash
  • Slightly soft images
  • No USB Disk mode (you must install the Canon software, or use a memory card reader)
  • No sharpening option (only a softening option!)
  • No on-screen aperture / shutter speed.

Alternative reviews: DCResource.com, Steve's Digicams.

Remember to have a look at the full size (and medium size) versions of these photos in the gallery!