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As a long time fan of Canon digital cameras I was keen to get my hands on the Powershot A400. Having used the A310 for sometime, the A400 was an attractively priced upgrade and I'm pleased to report that with a little coercion Santa delivered the goods. So, four months down the line, what is my verdict?
Firstly - compared to all other digital cameras I have used this is my favourite. I have used a range of cameras including many of the leading brands but for sheer 'bang per buck' value for money this camera is superb.
Slightly larger than some entry level cameras this camera contains all the connectivity you may sensibly expect in a small camera, the facility to produce short movies and even a range of editing features direct on the camera so if you're away from your PC you can still produce some after effects on your image.
The colours on the camera seem to be superb in any lighting conditions. The camera has presets for a range of lighting conditions but the ability to set the 'white' using a plain sheet of paper is absolutely guaranteed to generate vibrant and realistic colours. Very occasionally the preset does appear to let you down producing a slightly jaundiced tinge to indoor skin tones - the use of the white balance removes this and I think it can be reasonably attributed to the range of colour in indoor lighting. If you look carefully at skin tone under a variety of indoor lights you will see what I mean - it must be just about impossible for a manufacturer to cover all of these variations on one preset. The Canon does have a number of presets for indoors but even so, if you are keen for accurate skin tones in artificial light do take the extra second or so needed to set the white balance manually.
Having provided an overview let me deal with some aspects of the cameras functionality separately - feel free to skim through this picking out the sections relevant to your own digital imaging needs.
MEMORY: As with all digital cameras I have ever owned the included memory allocation is woefully inadequate. The camera uses the smaller format SD memory card which is ideal for storage as they really are incredibly tiny. The card comes with a 16Mb card - this needs to be used as a toothpick in my own experience as used as a memory card it is marginally better than useless. Immediately invest in a 1Gb card or similar and you will then be delighted. At the higher resolutions the camera produces images approximately 2Mb in size and why would you want to lower the resolution and produce anything other than the best image your camera is capable of?
MAIN FEATURES: The camera is a 3.2 MegaPixel camera. I wish they would stop using this method of describing camera resolutions however and instead move on to an honest description of image quality at a particular size. Basically, the more the mega pixel number the larger the image can be and still retain all original quality. At 3.2 MegaPixels you can reasonably expect 10" photographs to still look superb and enlargements up to A4 to be perfectly acceptable. The camera can emulate a range of ISO speeds from 50 to 400. This means it is acceptable for most every day situations. If you are trying to capture very fast movement you may want to opt for a camera capable of higher ISO speeds but expect to pay for that privilege. The ISO speed also enables you to make adjustments for light but with a range of presets including might time, underwater and fireworks, you may well find yourself letting the camera adjust the ISO setting most of the time. The camera had a digital zoom of up to 3.2X and this is a high quality digital zoom. Those who are used to previous incarnations of this camera including the A310 will be used to an optical zoom that produced good results and a digital zoom thereafter that was disappointing. This is not the case here - although lacking an optical zoom the digital zoom produces results of identical quality to the A310 optical zoom. Shutter speed is also adjustable from 1sec to 1/1500 sec which again is suitable for most every day tasks.
FOCUSSING: The focussing on this camera is stunning! Using some clever technology that Canon call '9 point AiAF' the camera breaks the image in to 9 segments and can simultaneously focus in all of the segments or be directed to only focus in the centre segment if you prefer. This enables you to produce those artistic 'soft focus' shots used on close up images and portraits. The effect with this camera is stunning and well worth playing around with.
FINISHING: Sepia, black and white, vivid - you name it the camera can produce it. 'Busy' shots with lots of texture and tone look truly superb in black and white - for example, a shot taken in woodland with the criss-crossing of branches really is made for finishing in black and white.
SCREEN: The LCD screen on the back of the camera is good in a variety of conditions. The only problem you will experience is a lack of brightness and clarity if the sun is shining directly onto the screen. This of course is a common complaint with LCD screens.
SOFTWARE: The camera comes bundled with a range of image editing and enhancing software and again, for every day use what you get is entirely sufficient. If you begin to take up the after shot editing as a hobby you may wish to invest in further more capable software but if you simply want to adjust colours or reduce red eye then everything you need is in the box. One of the more interesting software titles makes use of the 'stitch' facility on the camera. If you stand at any point and employ the 'stitch' effect on the camera you can move around and take a full 360 degree panoramic photograph. Using the Stitch Assist software the computer will then identify the overlap and 'stitch' the images together - the effect is stunning and enables some superb landscape shots to be developed. (If anybody knows of a photo printer that will produce these long narrow prints please do let me know!)
BATTERY LIFE: If you're anything like me with any portable device the battery life is where you make your purchasing decision or otherwise. The news here however is great. The camera runs on 2AA batteries and using standard off the shelf batteries you will get about 300-400 shots per battery change. This is with the LCD screen switched on. However, if you choose to invest in rechargeable batteries, this can be almost doubled!
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Please, before I go into the details contained in the Canon instruction book consider whether or not your computer is capable of moving around 2Mb images. If you can work comfortably with files of this size and not suffer too much lag then this camera should be fine. If however your computer matches the specification below but 2Mb images reduce your machine to a tearful heap of grinding silicon then do the sensible thing and upgrade your computer before buying a digital camera such as this - the end result otherwise will be superb images on the camera and a frustrating experience attempting to improve and print those images. The camera supports: Windows XP, 2000, ME, 98, 98 SE, Apple Mac OS X, OS 9.0-9.2.
OVERALL: Overall I come back to my starting point - I have never used a better entry to mid range digital camera and of course I have my sights set further and will be back with a review of a Digital SLR as soon as my finances allow but until then the results from this camera are superb and the price was great to at a fraction over £120.