Canon PowerShot A95

Canon describes its new, 5-megapixel, 3 x optical zoom PowerShot A95 as an entry-level camera. This is certainly true if you leave the shooting mode dial on Auto and then point and shoot. Pressing the shutter button half way sets off the auto focus and exposure. Two bleeps sound when the camera has finished metering and a green light gives you the go ahead to press the shutter button all the way.

This is no good for capturing the unexpected but with pre-planned shots, images are good quality, the camera is easy to handle if not pocket sized and the dials and menus are straightforward. If you run out of batteries, pretty much any shop will sell you a replacement set of four AA batteries. But shooting everything on Auto leaves you completely at the mercy of the camera's algorithms. With 5-megapixels, the A95 has two and half times as much information for the processor to work with than a 2-megapixel camera. Our results on Auto were mixed. Most of our test shots looked like what we were hoping for and were crisp images with true colours: some were disappointing. In particular, the camera had difficulty with shots taken on the Isis in Oxford on a very bright day and also with understanding the lines on a pinstriped white shirt.

We liked the camera better once we moved the shooting mode dial into what Canon calls the Creative Zone. This is where you can start playing with the aperture settings and shutter speed. Selecting a low aperture for portraits gave us our favourite shots. The beauty of any digital camera is being able to experiment. We ignored the rule book and took hundreds of shots with different settings, viewing the results on the LCD. At times, the processor had a severe headache trying to work out what we were shooting. Pressing the Menu button for longer than five seconds, then pressing the Set button returns all the settings to default. Experimenting drains the batteries and given that the A95 takes four, you need to invest in a set of high capacity rechargeables and a good charger to enjoy this camera. The LCD is large at 1.8" and rotates through 360 degrees. This is really useful for taking shots over the heads of a crowd or from tall buildings if you want to hang the camera out over the edge. In bright sunshine the LCD was less useful and we would have liked a hood.

All our test shots were taken on the highest resolution and compression: you only take a picture once so why take it on anything but the best settings? Given that this is how everyone seems to set their digital camera, the 32Mb CompactFlash card stores only about a dozen shots. You will probably want to upgrade it to 128Mb or 256Mb. As well as manual settings, there are 14 pre-set shooting modes including special scenic modes. In fact the A95 has more shooting modes than any other Canon camera. These settings work by telling the processor what to expect. Without presets, the camera's database, which works out what the picture is, has no idea what to expect. Is the image portrait or landscape, is it underwater or outdoors? Once a shooting mode is selected, the database can discount lots of possibilities and make the calculations necessary to create the image quicker and more accurately.

Buttons are easy to find although we wanted more control over the zoom lever: the lens seems to go from telephoto to wide angle with only a few stops in-between. The A95 has a macro mode for close ups and 9-point AiAF (artificial intelligence autofocus), a feature normally found in Canon's high-end models. This allows you to focus on off-centre subjects. The AF-assist flash helps with focus in low light conditions. We did not try the movie mode but we did test continuous shooting, fairly unsuccessfully. Our subject was a cat which really objected to the flash......flash.......flash.......flash even though we were distracting it by shouting birdie.

Verdict

The A95 replaces Canon's popular A80. It gives you some of the capabilities you would find in Canon's G series but in an easy to use, compact form. We especially liked the inbuilt, shutter like lens cover and retracting lens that makes the camera easy to pack away in your bag. Pixels are not an obsession, but when it comes to creative cropping, the 5-mexapixels helped. The camera took great pictures that printed directly as postcards or up to A4 using a PictBridge compatible printer. Our biggest puzzle was why we lost the edges on our shots when we printed images having used the LCD to frame them.

AA NiMH Uniross rechargeable batteries with charger were kindly loaned for this review by www.battery-force.co.uk