The A95 bears a close family resemblance to the rest of the A series, and is externally almost identical to the A80 - the only significant change being the replacement of the A80's 1.5-inch screen with a higher resolution 1.8-inch LCD, and addition of a Print/Share button. Like the A80, the body is constructed for the most part from metal (the end panels are high grade plastic), giving the camera a solid, rugged feel. The styling is functional rather than super-stylish, although compared to the PowerShot G5 the A95 is very compact and almost pocketable.
In your hand
First impressions of the A95 are that this is a very solid camera indeed - the majority of the body is encased in lightweight metal, and the weight (around 335g fully loaded) just enough to feel stable and balanced in the hand. The grip - a little shallow for my liking - is complimented on the rear of the camera by a textured area where your thumb sits. The large shutter release and zoom lever are well placed for single-handed shooting, though I found the weight of the A95 meant it felt a lot safer - and steadier - when supported by both hands. You cannot fault Canon when it comes to the build quality of the A95; it does not feel in any way like a budget camera, and what it lacks in sex appeal it makes up for in fit and finish.
As with all A series PowerShots, the A95 is powered by four AA batteries, which contribute a fair deal to the weight of the camera, but does make life easier if you run out of power when out and about. No rechargeable (NiMH) batteries are supplied in the box, so you'll need to budget for at least one set. The good news is that battery life is superb - Canon quotes 400 shots (using the CIPA standard) or 360 mins of playback on a single charge. Our experience bore this out. Impressive.
The only disappointing part of the A95 - from a build point of view - is the flimsy hinged door covering the CompactFlash slot, which can be difficult to open and close, and feels like it will break off without careful handling. The A95 has a CF type I slot - so you can't use a MicroDrive, but it does support FAT32 formatted cards for capacities over 2GB. A 32MB card is supplied in the box - enough for about 11 full size, best quality shots.
The screen is a big improvement over the A80. Not only is it bigger (1.8 inch as opposed to 1.5 inch), but it's almost double the resolution (118,000 pixels). It's bright, clear and has a high enough refresh rate for video lag to be barely noticeable. The screen works remarkably well in very bright conditions, and has an auto gain-up feature when shooting in low light.
And of course, it's a 'vari angle' screen - you can swing it out through 180 degrees and tilt it through a full 270 degrees. You can even turn it 'face in' to protect the screen surface when the camera is in your bag.
The optical viewfinder is nothing to write home about; small, not that clear and has no dioptre adjustment. That said, it's no worse than 99% of its competitors. If you do decide to use the optical viewfinder you can, however, extend the battery life to almost 1000 shots on a single set of NiMH cells - and reduce shutter lag. Two LEDs to the right of the viewfinder indicate focus and flash status.
The small built-in flash is a little under-powered, but perfectly usable in most social situations. There are three flash modes available; auto, on (forced), and off. You can turn red eye reduction on or off using the To get slow synch flash you need to switch to the night scene subject mode.
The 3x optical zoom covers a range equivalent to 38-114mm, with a maximum aperture that varies from a nice bright F2.8 at the wide end to a less impressive F4.9 at the long end. The zoom retracts almost fully into the body when powered down. In normal shooting mode you can focus down to 45cm, the macro mode gets you down to a respectable 5cm.
A small button releases the chrome collar at the base of the lens barrel, revealing a plastic bayonet. You can now add one of the three add-on lenses Canon offers for this model (via the lens adaptor, which gives you a 52mm filter thread).
TC-DC52A 1.75x teleconverter
Close-up Lens 250D 52
Wide Converter WC-DC52
The large shutter release sits on top of the grip, and is angled down very slightly. It has a nice positive feeling and a distinct 'half way' point, meaning you won't accidentally take a shot when trying to activate the AF. The zoom lever is a large circular 'collar' around the shutter release. The zoom action is a bit on the 'jumpy' side - there only appears to be five steps from wide to tele, which can make fine framing a little awkward.
On top of the camera, next to the shutter release, you will find the main power (on/off) switch, activity light and main mode dial. This is pretty standard Canon stuff - idiot-proof Auto mode, manual and semi automatic exposure modes, movies, stitch assist and scene modes. My only complaint is that the power switch isn't very responsive - you have to hold it down for around half a second for anything to happen. You soon get used to it though.
The four way controller is used to navigate the on-screen menus, or - in record mode - to cycle through flash modes and activate macro focus. Directly above the four-way controller is the main record/playback mode switch.