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Canon Powershot A470
7.1MP | 38-132mm (3.4X) ZOOM | $104 US, £75 UK

Introduced in January 2008, the PowerShot A470 is the latest in a long line of entry-level A series cameras and is currently the least expensive model in Canon's extensive (and seemingly ever-growing) compact lineup. Being the bottom of the range means the A470 misses out on optical image stabilization (now found on virtually all Canon PowerShots), and the 3.4x zoom lens starts at a rather uninspiring 38mm equivalent, but you still get the benefit of the DIGIC III processor, giving you fast, effective face detection, AiAF multi point focus and motion detection (which is supposed to avoid blur by increasing the ISO when it detects movement in the scene). The A470 is also one of only two PowerShots still sold with a pixel count below 8.0 megapixels, though for the typical user this simply isn't going to make a difference.

  • 7.1 effective Megapixels
  • 38-132mm equiv lens with 3.4x Optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
  • 2.5" LCD with 115,000 dots resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600
  • Face Detection AF (with red eye removal) and Motion Detection
  • 5 shooting modes, 11 scene modes
  • Movie mode (640 x 480 pixels @ 20 fps)
  • 32MB internal memory
  • DIGIC III Image Processor
  • Available in Silver & Grey, Silver & Blue, Silver & Green and Silver & Plum
  • 1cm super macro mode
  • Optional accessories available, including Selphy Photo Printer

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Overview

The Powershot A470 is perhaps the most dated-looking camera in this test. Rather than being shaped by recent trends and taking full advantages of the continued miniaturization of electronics, the A470 retains a rather squat, dumpy look (not helped by the all-plastic construction) - though Canon has tried to inject a touch of glamour with a range of color options. This under-styled look implies a dependable, no-nonsense feature set and, in that respect, it isn't misleading.

In pure specification terms, the A470 doesn't stand out in any particular respect, instead offering a sensible and balanced selection of features to offer a competent option at a reasonable price. The screen is amongst the lower resolutions examples in this test and the sensor is the joint lowest pixel-count units here. The one obvious drawback in the spec, though, is the lens that, while offering a good reach, isn't capable of zooming out to a wide-angle setting, making things awkward in confined spaces.

On the up-side, the A470 uses the same menu system as appears in all Canon's compact cameras and which does a good job of presenting quick access to a well-chosen selection of shooting settings using the Func menu. More fundamental camera behavior settings are handled in the main menu. It's a simple enough concept but one that Canon has refined to a high degree, making its cameras very pleasant to use, even when you venture away from the automated modes.

The A470 uses AA batteries and unless you're only intending to use it occasionally you'd be well advised to invest in a couple of high capacity Ni-MH rechargeables as we found in normal use the camera got through normal alkalines at quite a rate.

Key Features

The A470 is certainly not the sleekest or slimmest camera in our test and the only one to avoid a 'deck of cards' format. Instead it's a squat, lumpy little thing, but one that fits in the hand or pocket just as well as its taller, slimmer competitors. The A470 is by no means ugly, it's just that 1999 called and it wants its camera back.
The A470 sticks with a fairly traditional four-way controller - no dials or central button. The result is a pleasantly straightforward control system (though putting the zoom control here is somewhat unusual, these days). And on a camera of this level, the direct print button may be useful for some users.
That 3.4X zoom lens may look pretty tempting in a group with several 3X zoom cameras but the lens starts at an unhelpful 38mm equivalent focal length. This absence of any wide-angle ability is likely to be restrictive, particularly for indoor photographs.
The A470 features the FUNC menu that gives quick access to most key features (including white balance, exposure compensation and ISO). It's a fast and simple way to experiment with the various settings on offer. The screen itself isn't that sharp or bright (like most at this end of the market), and can be a bit difficult to see in very bright light.

Image quality and performance

The A470 might not have the sleek looks of some of the other cameras in this group but it does offer the kind of solid, reliable performance we've come to expect from Canon PowerShots, with little of note to complain about. Like all the cameras here the image quality doesn't bear close scrutiny; viewed at a pixel level there's the usual noise and noise reduction problems even at base ISO, and the images look at little soft and a little over-sharpened. By the time you get to ISO 200 there is noticeable smearing of low contrast detail, but overall the A470 produced some of the best results in the group, despite being one of the cheapest models.

Moving away from pixel level analysis our overall impression of the A470's output was mostly very positive; the color is natural and appealing, metering and focus are very reliable, and we experienced no white balance problems in natural light (as usual artificial light tended to produce strong color casts). Flash exposures are excellent (though as with most AA powered cameras flash recycle time is quite long).

The A470 is reasonably speedy for a camera in this class, autofocus is surprisingly quick, even in low light and at short distances, though it does slow down noticeably at the long end of the zoom. The clean, well designed menu system (common to all Canon compacts) is fast and responsive and the only 'fly in the ointment' is the flash recycle time, which (depending on the state of your batteries) can stretch out to up to ten seconds, making the A470 less than ideal for rapid social snapping in low light. The face detection system is fast and works well (though we did find it - and the focus system in general - struggled occasionally in very low light).

Image quality was amongst the best in the group, with excellent color, exposure, white balance and focus. Viewed at 100% you can see some corner softness at the wide end of the zoom and a slight reduction in resolution at the long end. There is also evidence of noise reduction smearing even at low ISO settings and the combination of softness and high in-camera sharpening isn't that pretty up close. At normal viewing sizes, however, there's little to complain about.

Summary

Proving that you can't judge a book by its cover, what the PowerShot A470 lacks in glamour it more than makes up for by offering a surprisingly solid point and shoot performance in a wide range of shooting conditions. The feature set may be fairly basic but what it does do, it does well - helped by Canon's clean, easy to use menu system and the excellent FUNC menu. And you do get face detection and a nifty AF point zoom feature plus a decent smattering of manual overrides and a selection of scene modes. Despite the low price the PowerShot A470's image quality score was one of the best in the group, and if you can live with the rather uninspired styling and slow flash recycling it offers superb value for money.

  • We like: Reliable image quality, easy to use, decent level of control, good macro
  • We don't like: Slow flash charging, no real wideangle, playback a little sluggish
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