Wednesday August 13, 2003
Canon A70 Report
Heron Canon A70

I promised to report on my new Canon A70 camera once I had some time to play with it. First I'll say that there's still a lot to learn and I've only briefly skimmed the manual. Fit and form factor are very nice, it feels solid and I don't get the feeling it's going to slip out of my hand. Good control layout, I especially like having a dedicated lever for switching between record and play modes. The other buttons and levers are easy to use and the screen is great.

The compact flash door seems like it could be flaky down the road. It triggers a micro switch, which turns off the camera or keeps it from coming on if the door is open. I always use USB to transfer so this isn't much of an issue, but someone pulling the card out often might run into trouble.

Tight flower cluster

There's a little removable ring around the base of the lens that exposes a latching mechanism for a Canon lens adaptor (twelve bucks). The adaptor extends out a ways from the lens and provides a 52mm thread for other lenses or filters. You can easily find a wide lens but macro and telephoto lens are on back order. I haven't tried any filters yet.

The Nikon 775 used an expensive, proprietary rechargeable battery which always bugged me. If you are traveling and it dies you can't just pop into a grocery store and get batteries. The A70 uses AA batteries, alkaline or rechargeables. It comes with a set of alkalines so you'll want to pick up a set of NiMH (nickel metal hydride) rechargeables and a charger.

I bought RipVan100's Lightning pack 4000n battery charger along with eight 2100mAh AA batteries: an excellent charger, small, fast, and smart. The batteries aren't completely broken in yet but they seem to last a long time. I haven't seen a battery meter on the display, maybe it only shows up when they are low? There is a small hearing aid battery slot behind the port cover, which probably backs up the system settings.

Heron and Duck standoff

The manual modes of the camera are handy and I've only started to explore them. Manual focus is a bit strange and it almost seems like I can focus slightly closer using automode. On the other hand when in program mode, to do manual focus, there are many other settings that I'm probably failing to account for. That's the deal with taking the job over from the camera, you actually have to start thinking! ":^) I'd say my worst photos were in low light when I wasn't in the right mode and they came out grainy. Some of my best were also in low light but using better settings...more learning.

I really like the video mode. If you have enough memory it will take up to three minute videos at full resolution (51mb AVI). Not only does it include audio (the 775 was deaf and limited to low quality 15sec vids) but there are a couple movie resolutions to choose from, the highest being 640x480. Nice looking movies. While the audio isn't world class it's better than nothing. After watching gigabytes transfer so quickly to an iPod over firewire it's painful to use USB to move big movies. Oddly, I don't have to unmount the A70 in OSX like I had to do with the 775.

Canon includes a pile-o-software: image downloader, photo-stitch, and remote control. The downloader seems nice, but I've gotten used to iPhoto and how it nicely organizes my photos (I edit in photoshop). Photo-stitch takes a series of photos and stitches them together into a panorama. The camera has a stitch assist mode where it ghosts the edge of the previous picture in the LCD so you can line up the next shot. Pretty slick. What's really slick is the remote software. With your camera hooked to the computer you can completely control all of its settings, zoom in/out, and take snapshots. Now what I need is a wireless USB connector so I can remotely control the camera from a distance.

More cloud than silver lining

No matter the bells and whistles, though, it really boils down to how good the pictures are. So far I've taken some really nice photos but there's also a sizeable collection of "learning" shots. With the 775 I'd gotten into a comfort zone of knowing how it would perform under a wide range of situations. This knowledge, or feel, doesn't always apply to the Canon A70. I have more pixels to work with and certainly more settings, but that also means more to learn. It's starting to feel more comfortable and after a few more months of use and a thousand photos I should be doing great.

Lebanon Opera House

Jeremy • 2003-08-13 10:03pm

What sort of (general) settings do you use for low light? (I can never seem to get my photos to *not* be grainy....
Jer • 2003-08-14 08:45am

Hmm, not sure that I know.

When I'm in the dark woods taking shots of mushrooms (walked in this morning and there were a few million) I turn off the flash, leave it on auto, and try to position the shot so I'm not blocking whatever ambient light source there might be.

I'm still experimenting with really low light levels. That little bird picture on August 12th was low light (accidentally fired the flash the first time...poor fella). Unfortunately the focus was too far back on his body, but I couldn't really see that at the time.