Canon PowerShot A20 And CP10 Printer
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Although Canon's A20 does not offer dynamic range-booster options, it captured a significant amount of detail even in this sand shot.
Photos © 2001, Ingrid S. Krampe, All Rights Reserved

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.

First Impressions
The A20 feels solid and compact in the hand, measuring 4.3x2.8x1.5" and weighing only 8.8 oz. It provides a 2.5x optical zoom (comparable to 35-105mm, 35mm), extendable to a 7x digital zoom for those wanting to crop images inside the camera. Optional equipment is an important part of the Canon system and includes the CP-10, a small portable digital printer (see sidebar)--no computer needed, as well as underwater housing that works up to 100 ft below the surface.

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.

Road Show
When a friend recently purchased a new bike, the A20 seemed like the perfect excuse to take it on its maiden voyage. We headed to the Emerald Coast (Florida) on a Friday afternoon with his equally new motorcycle license and just enough room in the built-in luggage racks for a laptop, some camera gear, two changes of clothing, and one beach towel.

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.

We used the CP-10 printer to print some "fun" images to mail back to friends from our trip to the Emerald Coast.

Viewing & Macro Mode
The LCD screen on the A20 was similar to the other cameras we have tested in that it was very difficult to see in bright sunlight, and even a bit smaller than some at only 1.5" measured diagonally. However, the A20 does provide an optical viewfinder that adjusts with the camera's zoom function. The only real problem we ran into was composing images in bright sunlight using Macro mode. In Macro, the parallax phenomenon will not allow accurate image confirmation through the viewfinder and the LCD tends to be very difficult to see, forcing the user to do a little guesswork or forgoing the subject all together.

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
While in Manual shooting mode it is also possible to adjust the camera to continuous shooting setting. For optimal results, it is necessary to turn the LCD off and adjust resolution to the Large/Fine mode. The A20 will expose successive shots at the rate of 2.5 images per sec providing the flash is turned off. Continuous shooting is possible with the flash on, but at a much slower pace.

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.

Like most digital cameras the A20 comes with video cables to view images on your television set, a nice option considering its tiny little viewfinder. If no television is available, it is possible to magnify the image on the screen (approximately 2.5 times) during replay and to rotate it to suit your needs. An "Index Replay" option provides reviews in sets of nine, although I preferred the AutoPlay option that displays all of the images on the CompactFlash card for approximately 3 sec. The user can speed up the display by pressing the arrow keys below the LCD screen on the back.

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

The CP-10

The CP-10
For instant printing from a compatible PowerShot camera, Canon offers the CP-10, compatible with the A20 (as well as the Digital Elph S300 and A-10) via USB interface. Weighing only 18 oz and measuring a bit over 4x9" (less than 2" in diameter) the CP-10 was barely noticeable in the bike's overcrowded saddlebags. We printed directly from the camera's LCD monitor, but the CP-10 also offers the DPOF algorithm for batch printing of multiple copies or series printing. Printing with the CP-10 was fairly intuitive and we printed up some fun shots, as well as the effects of our constant companion, tropical storm Allison. Although the dye sublimation bordered and borderless 3.4x2.1" prints are quite a bit smaller than post card size, we got a kick out of mailing them back to friends with a quick note from our vacation. At 300dpi and with a protective coating, the quality of these little prints is amazingly good and certainly applicable for quite a few applications.

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.

Canon PowerShot A20

Technical Specifications
CCD Resolution: 2.11 megapixel (CCD)
Recording Media: CompactFlash Type I
Focal Length: 5.4-16.2mm (35-105mm equivalent)
ISO: 100-150
Metering: Evaluative metering linked to focusing point
Flash: Auto/Auto Redeye Reduction/On/Off/Slow Synchro
Shutter: 1/1500-1 sec
F/Value: f/2.8-4.8
White Balance: TTL Auto WB/Preset WB (Daylight, Cloud, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Black and White)
Weight/Size: 4.3x2.8x1.5" (8.8 oz)
Print Format: DPOF compatible
Resolution Options: (1600x1200, 1024x768, 640x480 pixels)
Compression Modes: Normal, Fine, SuperFine
Macro Feature: 6.3" wide/10.2" tele
Focus: Auto, three-point TTL system with off-center coverage
Manual Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/3 step increments
Power: Four AA size batteries (alkaline rechargeable Ni-MH, NiCD)
Modes: Auto, Manual, Stitch Assist, Playback