Canon PowerShot A460 digital camera

The PowerShot A460 updates its predecessor, the A430 with a slightly larger 2-inch colour screen and an extra million pixels, bringing the total effective resolution of the new model to 5 million pixels.

The camera's rather basic 4x optical zoom lens protrudes from the body as a single barrel which as you may have guessed means while the 460 is compact it is not tiny.

The camera’s undoubtedly blocky design does have good ergonomics however, meaning the controls fall nicely to hand and help make the otherwise simple styling carry across to some very simple handling characteristics.

Just a shutter release and on/off button sit on the top plate while the new, larger LCD is accompanied by a refreshingly nice to use optical viewfinder and a small mode dial that allows you to control the main shooting and playback modes of the camera.

These include a 640 x 480-pixel movies mode with sound and three still capture modes of auto, manual and the “SCN” or scene mode. While the auto setting is self explanatory, manual actually only gives you a modicum of extra control through the FUNC(tion) menu system accessed via the FUNC/Set button on the back. This then allows control of all the cameras main snapping controls such as exposure compensation, macro mode, ISO, white balance and image quality and size.

In auto you have just drive mode and image quality and size to play with, the camera’s excellent iSAPs scene analysis processing helping to “pick” the correct settings for the scene about to be shot; it’s a kind of built-in expert system that adjusts the camera to the appropriate settings for you.

The playback mode does exactly that, displays images already safely ensconced on the cameras SD/SDHC/MMC storage. In the “SCN” mode, the camera operates as if in the auto mode but you get an additional eight scene modes to choose between including portrait, night scene and the like. Other snapping modes accessed via the camera’s large four-way controller on the back include the landscape and macro modes.

The four-way jog button also controls the lens’s zooming with a press of the top part zooming towards the tele end of the lens and the bottom zooming to the wide-angle end of the lens. You actually get a respectable 38-152mm focal range and the fast F2.8 to F5.8 maximum aperture range is quite good for a camera at this level as well.

The AiAF focusing system utilises nine focus zones and works well enough but can be a tad erroneous when shooting complex subjects or in the super macro mode, where it can choose the wrong part of the scene. Luckily, the AF can be switched to a single central zone (in the excellent menu system) so you can take control of where the focus, erm, focuses. The fixed central zone can be used to get the right area sharp and you recompose as needed to frame correctly.

In terms of speed the camera fires up and is ready to go in around 1.5-seconds with a shot to shot time (without flash) of around 1.5-seconds but the slow flash charge time of 5-7-seconds was not very good. In burst mode you can shoot around 10-shots in 7 seconds, not bad.

The slow flash recharge time is due mainly to the camera’s use of two AA batteries and while the advantage, here is you’ll never be wanting for a power source as AA are pretty much ubiquitous. However, “normal” alkaline AA’s get sucked dry in about ten shots, so a good set of (at least) 2300mAh rechargeable NiMH cells are worth investing in.

As for image quality, the 460 does do rather well. In fact, the PowerShot A550, tested some weeks ago, holds little extra detail despite it being a camera, which in terms of specification at least resembles the A460 very closely, apart from having an extra two megapixels of resolution. Particularly impressive is the portrait mode and skin-tone rendition.

Sensitivity runs from ISO 80 to ISO 400 in four steps with noise becoming apparent at ISO 200 but very obvious only at the top ISO 400 setting. Noise reduction processing via Canon’s DIGIC II chip set works nicely, retaining detail rather than smoothing it all away as some more aggressive processing on other makes of camera can.

Having said that, landscapes shots still suffered as detail in some shots where a distant object may be represented by just a couple of pixels in the image, is homogenised into little blobs of pixels, which is a shame and means you’re not getting the best out of the lens. However, the lens is sharp across the frame (even if the wide end of the zoom is not as “wide” as some competitor cameras) and there’s only a little barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, so it goes a long way to make up for the other problems.

White balance is excellent – even auto mode in mixed lighting did well, certainly above average for this level of camera – as are exposure and colour balance which can both be adjusted; there’s +/-2EV of exposure compensation to play with and the “usual” presets for colour including vivid, sepia and black and white modes. However, one bugbear in terms of image quality was a general lack of contrast in some of my more general scenes and landscape shots, where the “punch” in the image seems to have been leeched in a slight haze.

But on the up side once more, there’s almost no blue pixel fringing on my shots, even in high contrast areas of the scene, thanks largely to the fact the lens is able to properly resolve all the pixels, something a higher resolution sensor might not be able to boast with such as lens on a camera such as this.

Verdict

First up, do not be put off by the camera “only” having 5-megapixel sensor. This simply means there are less noise problems to worry about at a given sensitivity and the more manageable file sizes generated means you get more shots onto whatever capacity storage you have in place.

Plus, this camera’s retail price of £119 belies a very nice snapping tool that hides a bit extra poke under the bonnet in terms of spec’ and usability. It may not be the prettiest camera out there and it may not be the fastest, but it takes nice pictures, is easy to use, and is worth every penny at that price.