Canon’s PowerShot A4000 IS crams an 8x optical zoom and image stabilisation into its small body. But can this budget point-and-shoot compact deliver where it counts?
Point and shoot
The PowerShot A4000 is a fairly no frills compact. It’s aimed squarely at those who want the camera to take control. But even those who don’t want to think about various settings will find the included "program" setting a more proficient shooting mode.
The reason is simple: the "auto" mode is rather hit and miss when it comes to focusing on subjects. The camera frequently focused behind the main subject, or its face detection persistently found apparent faces in the most mundane of (and obviously devoid of faces) backgrounds.
This is where the program mode - activated by a single click upwards on the d-pad - comes to the rescue. The choice of face detection, centre only and tracking autofocus options provide a degree of useful control. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use the camera, as it will still deal with all the exposure calculations thereafter.
We found the centre AF option to be the most effective for the majority of tasks. There’s even an AF-point zoom that displays the focus point at 100 per cent size on screen to confirm focus is spot on before taking the shot.
The PowerShot A4000 is also proficient when it comes to close-up shooting, as activated by the macro (flower symbol) - also located on the d-pad.
The star of the A4000’s features list has to be its 8x optical zoom lens. The “IS” in the camera’s title refers to its lens-based image stabilisation technology. When light fades or when zoomed in to the max it’s trickier to keep shots as steady as when light sources are good, and it’s here that the stabilisation - which counteracts minute hand movements by shifting the lens by microscopic amounts - comes into its own.
The focal range begins at 28mm at the wide-angle and extends through to a 224mm equivalent at its longest and it means wider-than-peripheral-view shots can be captured with ease. But with that zoom, bringing distant things closer is nice and easy too.
Considering the small size of the body it’s an impressive range to squeeze into such a camera – and a distinct feature that sets the camera apart from, say, the camera in your mobile phone.
The focus is proficient enough, although shot-to-shot times are on the slow side. So if you want to take one shot quickly after another you’ll have to be a little more patient. Three to four seconds may not sound like a long time, but it can be in photographic terms - and that’s the length of time you’ll need to wait between frames.
The PowerShot A4000’s 16-megapixel images are good enough for their purpose - casual snaps - though aren’t likely to blow your socks off.
For the target market though it’s not going to be a major concern. The shots that come out of the camera are bright, well exposed, full of colour and more than do the job.
However, closer inspection shows chromatic aberrations, corner softness and a lack of detail throughout the ISO range - but none of these issues will cause problems when dealing with images on a small-to-medium scale. Web use, social sharing and even prints will be fine. Think about it: 16-megapixels is around eight times more resolute than a 1080p television, so scale shots down and blemishes will be a little more hidden.
In the Program mode it is possible to select the ISO sensitivity - which controls the camera’s sensitivity to light - from between ISO 100-1600. Higher ISO settings are useful in low light, although, again, the PowerShot A4000 struggles to deliver the quality at its top-end setting.
The Canon PowerShot A4000 achieves a number of highs: it’s affordable, there’s an 8x optical zoom range with image stabilisation and the close-up macro mode are all appealing points.
But the auto mode’s autofocus is hit and miss, the camera’s image quality is nothing special, it’s rather slow to operate, has so-so battery life and, despite its low price, there are other models out there with wider-angle lenses, longer zoom ranges (10x with image stabilisation) and longer-lasting batteries that cost about the same price
So as much as we can see where the Canon A4000 fits into the budget camera range, it’s the strength of its peers’ features that leave it somewhat lacking.