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Conclusion - Pros

  • Very good resolution, very clean results at lower ISO settings
  • Bright, but natural colors
  • Excellent handling
  • Decent edge-to-edge lens performance
  • Useful 35-140mm equiv. 4x zoom lens with decent F2.8-4.1 max aperture range
  • Reliable focus in most situations
  • Sophisticated and comprehensive range of features and controls
  • Superb build quality / construction
  • Very little purple fringing
  • Reliable flash exposure
  • Big vari-angle screen
  • Excellent battery life
  • Good movie mode quality
  • Light noise reduction makes for better detail retention at mid-range ISO settings.
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Optional add-on lenses, filters and slave flash
  • Pretty good value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • Clipped highlights in bright, contrasty conditions (not helped by high default contrast)
  • Focusing at tele end in low light can hunt
  • Zoom is not very smooth - only 7 steps from wide to tele
  • No ISO button - WB, drive, metering etc only accessible via menus
  • Flash recycling could be faster
  • Screen resolution a bit low, and can be difficult to see in bright direct sunlight
  • ISO 800 very noisy in low light (just usable for small prints)

Overall conclusion

Canon is one of the few companies still producing solid photographic feature-rich compact cameras like this, offering a genuine alternative for the serious photographer on a budget wanting SLR-level control.

The A620 was one of the most capable 7MP cameras on the market, and offered perhaps the best 'bang for your buck' without requiring serious compromises in either performance or image quality. The A640 is, without a doubt, cast from the same mould.

It isn't a major upgrade (despite the extra 3 million pixels), but it does seem to offer slightly more reliable exposure and certainly captures a little more detail than its predecessor - it's also better at ISO 200 / ISO 400 (especially if you are printing, where the extra pixels help). The screen might not be any higher resolution, but the larger size is an improvement when it comes to framing and playback. Most of the other changes are minor or inconsequential, and the truth is that the for existing users of an A620 there will be little - if any - reason to upgrade.

Compared to the other 10MP compact cameras on the market the A640 is an easy choice; there is little if any direct competition. What's interesting is that for many users the A640 is a serious alternative to Canon's own flagship G7 (which will set you back over $100 more). If you don't need the extra zoom (where the G7's image stabilization is useful) or flash hot shoe, you can get near-identical results from each camera, and there are areas where the A640 actually outperforms the G7. For anyone who prefers to do their own noise reduction processing the A640 is a better choice at higher ISO settings, where the noise and detail retention are both higher. The G7 might be more stylish and have a much better screen, and it certainly makes its huge feature set a lot easier to control, but image quality is - all things considered - pretty much a dead heat.

I don't like Canon's decision to 'hold back' on features that it deems out of place on an A series camera (mainly external controls for things like ISO, drive, AF modes and so on), but I don't honestly think that for most users the need to use the FUNC menu to change ISO is going to drive them into the arms of the G7. I'm loathe to use the word 'crippled' because the A640 has a far superior feature set to virtually all of its competitors, and many are even more reliant on menus. But you can't help feeling that some of the choices made are simply designed to ensure there is enough space above the A640 for a premium model or two. And you can see why - the A series has come a long way in the last few years and - as I mentioned at the start of the review - cameras like the A640 mean the gap between the 'entry level' and 'enthusiast' ranges is closing - and it's the A series that's doing the closing.

Anyway, ranting over, we've got a superbly built, superbly specified camera, capable of excellent results at a reasonably keen price. It's an ideal 'first camera' for anyone wanting to learn the craft of photography - it's a very reliable 'point and shoot' that can grow with you as your experience and ability develops. It's a pretty easy Highly Recommended and - though by no means flaw-free - is a perfect example of how far compact cameras have come in the last few years.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that the PowerShot A630 is an almost identical camera with an 8MP sensor that sells for almost $100 / £50 less in some outlets. We'll be looking at the A630 very soon.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 8.0
Image quality 8.0
Optics 8.0
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 8.0

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