Canon PowerShot A20 And CP10 Printer
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
The good thing about digital point-and-shoots is that they're digital and they're point-and-shoot. The bad thing about digital point-and-shoots is that they're point-and-shoot and there's only so much you can do with them. Some, of course, are better than others.
The Canon PowerShot A20 is one of the few digital cameras we've tested decidedly not suffering from an identity crisis. Canon did not bother with multi-shot modes to enhance resolution, nor did they incorporate dynamic range-booster options that primarily concern working pros. The identity of this camera is clear: It is a point-and-shoot--but a hardworking comprehensive point-and-shoot of the highest order. If one wanted to accuse Canon of giving this camera airs it would have to be based on its exceptionally good-looking platinum toned body.
If I had the option of adding anything to the A20, it would have to be resolution. While this camera's 2.1 megapixel CCD supports its consumer identity and price ($599 MSRP), the quality is sufficient only for smaller print and web applications. However, this is possibly the only limitation in a system designed to be at your side for every possible adventure.
Of course it rained. By the time we had made the 60 mile trek to Atlanta, it was getting dark and the prelude to tropical storm Allison had driven down the air pressure enough to force large pelting raindrops from the sky. Anything not getting wet from above was getting it from every car, truck, and tractor trailer that sped by. I had not been able to obtain the optional underwater housing from Canon and shooting opportunities were further hindered when I was ordered "not to move," as "Why are we doing this?" "Will the camera gear destruct on impact," and "I should have increased my life insurance," made recurring patterns in my head. However, we made it. Noontime on Saturday and 480 miles later the Emerald Coast lay in gloomy misery under an expanse of billowing clouds.
The A20 is intuitive. Not intuitive in the sense that it thinks for you, but intuitive in the sense that if you mash a couple of buttons, it understands that you are trying to do something and offers you prompts to get you there. The mode dial on the back of the camera offers a choice of Manual, Auto, Replay, and Stitch Assist. I started out by shooting the dismal surroundings in Auto, capturing the lone beachcombers stubbornly using the sun umbrellas to ward off the wet rather than the sun.
Viewing & Macro Mode
The camera's Macro mode is not very close providing 6.3" to 2.5 ft at wide angle and 10.2" to 2.5 ft at the telephoto setting. At very close range the camera's flash is not optimized, although this was hardly a problem with the giant "cloud" softbox that had accompanied us to the beach. The A20 offers all of the traditional flash options including Redeye Reduction; Auto; Off; On; and Slow Synchro.
One of the delights in using digital point-and-shoots is their voyeuristic capacity to shoot in public places in virtual obscurity. Once the bike was safely anchored, we took the A20 out, sitting it on the table while framing the scene through the viewfinder, and the camera responded quickly (compared to many of its counterparts) once the shutter release button was pressed. If you need a bit more light, just set the camera on Manual mode and then adjust the flash setting to Slow Synchro. The A20 will even save the Slow Synchro setting for next time.
Manual Mode & Stitching
The only possible gratuitous option this camera offers is a Stitching function that allows users to compose panoramic scenes. We tried it and it was fairly simple. Once you turn the dial on the back of the camera to Stitching mode the image appears in the center of the frame with an arrow. You simply adjust the arrow to the left or right by pushing the arrow buttons below the LCD on the back of the camera. Once the first exposure is made a small portion of the exposure remains on the LCD in order to align the next shot. You need to overlap 30-50 percent of the image and can take as many as 26 exposures for compilation with the PhotoStitch software that comes bundled with the camera.
It rained less on the way back (although not much), and I kept the A20 on my lap as we meandered up the coast through little coastal towns with names like Seaside, Santa Monica, and Laguna Beach, until we finally headed inland from Panama City. The A20 was perfect for the trip. It was quick, adept, easy to use, and had just about everything I'd want in a digital point-and-shoot for a road trip. For more information, go to their web site at www.usa.canon.com.
The optical formula includes two aspherical elements, with a non-spherical surface. This type effectively corrects spherical distortion, causing all light rays to converge at a common point, for higher edge sharpness at wide apertures. Such elements also correct barrel distortion so there is less bowing outward of lines near the edge of the frame, as well as reducing halo and comatic flare. As a bonus, size and weight are reduced because fewer elements are required for corrections in comparison to lenses of conventional design.
The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is very wide, making this lens useful for photojournalism in low-light situations. I was able to get sharp pictures handheld inside a cathedral with ISO 100 film, at 1/15 sec at 28mm (and even longer shutter speeds with my elbows braced). The wide aperture is important whenever flash or a tripod is prohibited or impractical, and also to increase the effective range of flash. Serious photographers will certainly appreciate the ability to shoot at f/2.8 instead of f/3.5-5.6, as they must with many "standard" zooms.