The A700 is, unsurprisingly, very similar in appearance to the other cameras in the A series; slightly boxy but pretty solid and well-finished (though compared to the A620, for example, it feels very lightweight). What is slightly surprising is the size; the A700 is remarkably small, especially considering the fact it sports a full 6x optical zoom (it's considerably less bulky than the A620, for example). Control layout will be familiar to anyone who has ever used an A series PowerShot. External controls are fairly minimal considering the huge feature set, with most everyday shooting functions accessed via the excellent FUNC menu - although I was very disappointed to again, there isn't a dedicated ISO button (which has started to appear on Ixus / Elph models, so why not here?). One change from last year's high end A series is the screen; it's bigger (2.5 inch), but doesn't offer the very useful tilt 'n' swing movements seen on the A620.

In your hand

Say what you like about Canon, but it avoids the temptation to make budget models that feel like toys; the A700, like every A series camera I've ever used, feels very solid indeed, despite the fact there's slightly more plastic and slightly less metal than previous models (only the front is cased in metal). The grip is a slightly smaller than the old 'flagship', the A620, but is still a lot better than the 'bar of soap' design used by most compact cameras (including many Canon models) for single-handed shooting. You cannot fault Canon when it comes to the build quality or handling of the A700; it does not feel in any way like a budget camera, and, like the other A series cameras before it, what it lacks in sex appeal it makes up for in fit and finish.

Body elements

As with all A series PowerShots, the A700 is powered by AA batteries (two in this case). Rechargeable (NiMH) batteries are not 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, LCD monitor on) from a fully charged set of NiMH cells, and up to 1000 shots if you turn the LCD off and use the viewfinder. Our experience bore this out. Impressive.
The card slot sits under the same fairly sturdy hinged door at the base of the grip. The design means you have to be slightly careful when removing the card to remember to hold the camera upside down or your batteries will be on the floor.
A flexible plastic cap on the left side of the body (viewed from the back) covers the A700's ports. Underneath you'll find AV and USB connections, plus a socket for the optional AC adaptor.
The A700 follows the current trend (driven, it should be said, by consumer demand) towards larger screens with a big, bright 2.5-incher. The resolution still hasn't risen beyond 115,000 pixels, which means it looks a bit pixilated close up, but it is very bright, has very little lag and a pretty high refresh rate. It's also very good in low light and surprisingly usable even in direct sunlight. Now all we need is a higher resolution version that won't suck the batteries dry in minutes...
The optical viewfinder is nothing to write home about; small, with no dioptre adjustment and only showing around 80 per cent of the frame (with a 210mm long end on the zoom this cropping is needed to reduce parallax error problems).That said it is fairly bright and clear. 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.
The built-in flash has a range of about 3.5m (12 ft) at the wide end of the zoom, and offers the usual range of modes. The anti red eye mode (switched on and off using a menu option) uses the bright AF illuminator, rather than pre-flashes, so doesn't slow things down too much. Canon sells an add-on slave flash unit (the HF-DC1), which attaches to the camera via a bracket and extends the flash range to 30 feet.
One of the most significant changes over previous A series cameras is a longer zoom range - the A700 sports a 6x optical zoom (covering a useful 35 - 200mm equiv. range). With no image stabilization and a fairly slow F4.8 max aperture, the tele end of the zoom is strictly for use in bright conditions if shooting hand-held. As with previous A series cameras the ring around the base of the lens can be removed to allow the attachment of wide or tele converters.
The large shutter release sits on top of the grip. 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, which can make fine framing a little awkward (there are 14 steps over the entire 35-200mm range).
On top of the camera, behind the shutter release, sit the main power (on/off) switch, activity light and mode dial. This is pretty standard Canon stuff - idiot-proof Auto mode, manual and semi automatic exposure modes, movies, stitch assist and scene modes.
The four-way controller is used to navigate the on-screen menus. In record mode the up key also changes flash mode, and the down key toggles auto, macro and manual focus modes. In the middle is the ubiquitous 'FUNC' key, which gives access to commonly-used photographic controls.