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Canon A530 report

 
 
Paul Rubin
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      05-21-2006
Overall rating: 4 out of 5.

I'm going on a trip soon and wanted a small responsive camera and have
been happy with Canon in the past. I decided against the A610/620
because of their fairly large size. The A530-540-700 are just
slightly larger than my old S100 and easily pocketable. At first I
thought to get the A540 because of its large LCD, then thought of the
A700 because of a few other features, then decided the 540 and 700
weren't worth the extra cost, so I got the 530. Its handling is maybe
a little slower than the A610/620 but it's the quickest small digicam
I've had so far. It replaces a Nikon 3100 which had (in some ways as
we'll see) a nicer UI, but was unusably slow.

Featurewise it has a few quirks:

1. There's a menu setting to turn the startup screen (a Canon logo) on
and off, giving the impression that you can use one of your own
pictures as a startup screen. I searched the menus but couldn't
find how. I resorted to looking at the manual and it turns out you
need to do this from a PC with the include Windows software. I
don't run Windows so this is useless. This particular feature is
very minor but I mention it because I prefer that the camera's
functions be self-contained whenever possible instead of depending
on a Windows app.

2. You switch between record and playback mode with a slide switch on
the back of the camera. The S100 was the same way but I'd
forgotten about it. Typically you take some shots in record mode,
review them in playback mode, then shut off the camera. That means
when you turn the camera on to shoot some more, it's in the wrong
mode. I prefer Nikon's approach of powering up in shooting mode
and entering playback mode with a pushbutton instead of a slide
switch.

3. It has this "AI" multizone autofocus which divides the frame into 9
regions and uses some mysterious divining method to guess which
zone has the real subject. It shows you on the LCD screen which
zone it's chosen and it's often wrong. That means the optical
finder is useless with this AF mode. You have to use the LCD to
know what the camera is focusing on. It's stupid, I prefer to just
AF on the center zone and recompose as needed. That's a very
natural maneuver and doesn't take any time.

4. There is (as is typical) an "auto-everything" mode which shuts off
most of the confusing menu options. This is in general a good
thing and I'd like to use it, but there's no way to turn off the AI
AF in this mode. So I set the camera in program mode, which allows
turning off AI, but exposes more settings in general and more ways
to make errors.

5. The camera supports ISO levels from 80 to 800, or "auto". "Auto"
seems to increase ISO to no more than around 200. For example, in
room light it sets the shutter to 1/4th of a second where selecting
ISO 800 gets 1/15th. This is probably wise. ISO 800 is
horrendously noisy.

6. ISO 800 is noisy even when you set the resolution to 640x480. I'd
hoped that the firmware could do some kind of pixel binning to
cut the noise down, but it doesn't seem to try.

7. The zoom lens isn't really a continuous zoom, it's more like a
Tri-Elmar (heh heh). That is, you can't really precisely adjust
your composition by zooming, it moves in jumps. There seem to be
about 7 increments. If these are geometrically equally spaced (I
didn't check), it would mean the 35mm equivalent of 35, 43, 52, 63,
77, 94, 115, and 140mm. Other cameras I've used had more of a
continuous zoom so I don't know why they did that. The jumpiness
is slightly annoying. It also applies to the zoom-in playback
function (operates in discrete jumps) but I do like that the
playback zooming goes in quite close (to 10x) and is very
responsive in zooming and scrolling.

8. There is no infrared remote or cable release socket but you can
control the camera from a computer using the Windows software.
I don't know if non-Windows PTP software can do it.

9. The camera doesn't seem to support the USB mass storage interface!
However, plugging it into my Linux laptop (Fedora Core 4)
immediately loads the pictures by PTP and works quite well. I've
always used a card reader before, so maybe I'll try this PTP thing
for a while. I think lack of UMS is unfortunate, though.

10. The 5mp pictures seem a little bit soft, especially near the
corners, but I guess not too bad for a small cheap camera like
this. I think the small sensor just can't hold contrast in the
fine details as well as a bigger sensor can. There's plenty of
sample shots at the review sites so I'll spare you from looking at
mine.

11. I have minor buyers' remorse about not getting an A540 and
wideangle accessory lens for scenics on my trip (the A530 doesn't
take the accessory lenses). I hadn't been planning to buy the
wideangle immediately but now I find myself wanting it. I figure
I can always upgrade later though, without taking too big a bath.

12. It claims to be able to take 300+ shots on two alkaline AA's if
you use the optical finder instead of the LCD. I have NiMH cells
in it now which should last longer. I think I'm going to bring a
couple spare pairs of freshly charged NiMH cells on the trip and
leave my charger at home. I can always fall back on alkalines if
I have to. But even two sets of NiMH should be more than plenty
for any reasonable amount of shooting.

13. It has a video mode that actually seems kind of cute. There is a
1GB maximum size for the video file, kind of stupid since the
camera accepts 2GB SD cards (I have one in it now). I don't know
if it accepts 4GB cards, and I kind of doubt it.

14. Overall, the camera has a lot more features than the S100 but
seems less "classic" as a result. There's more settings to mess
with, and more interface decisions that they didn't get quite
right. Still, it's about as good as one could hope for this class
of camera, given marketing realities.
 
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