Design and Handling

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Externally the A710 IS is slightly curvier, less boxy than its predecessor but it's not a whole scale reinvention. The control layout is almost identical and 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 that Canon still won't put an ISO button on the A series cameras. Despite being slightly larger than the A700 the A710 is still a very compact camera considering its extended 6x zoom range. It's also - for budget camera - surprisingly well put together and feels very solid (despite, like the A700 before it, having a lot more plastic than other A series models).

The chunky design of the A710 IS might not be as sexy as some of Canon's more stylish Ixus / Elph models, but it does make for excellent, stable handling. The grip, though still small, has been deepened slightly and it's all the better for it. I found, unusually, this was a camera that felt safe and fairly steady when used with one hand. Shutter release and zoom controls are perfectly positioned and - the whole thing works very well in the hand.

Key body elements

Nothing earth-shatteringly different here; Canon has a formula for the A series that, for the most part, works well, and users of any other camera in the range will find no surprises if they pick up the A710 IS.

The top of the camera is home to the main power button, mode dial and shutter release (in the middle of the circular zoom rocker). Like the A700, the shutter release has a nice positive feel and a distinct 'half press' point.

Whilst it has the same 6x optical zoom (covering a useful 35 - 210mm equiv. range), the A710 IS adds image stabilization, which transforms the usability at the long end.

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 A710 IS has the same big, bright 2.5-inch screen as its predecessor. 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.
The optical viewfinder (something of a rarity on a camera like this these days) is nothing to write home about; small, with no dioptre adjustment and only showing around 80 per cent of the frame (with a 200mm long end on the zoom this cropping is needed to reduce parallax error problems). If you do decide to use the optical viewfinder you can, however, extend the battery life to almost 900 shots on a single set of NiMH cells - and reduce shutter lag.

Controls & Menus

Canon's menu and on-screen display system has - despite minor appearance tweaks here and there - remained admirably consistent across camera ranges and generations. There are virtually no changes over the A700, save for a new 3:2 overlay mode (for previewing how the framing you are using will work with standard print formats) and the addition of MyColors functionality to the playback mode.

Pressing the DISP button cycles between three preview settings; off (use the optical viewfinder), preview image only (no information displayed) and - as shown above - full information. There's plenty of information ranged around the edge of the preview image. Note that the amount of information displayed will depend which mode you are shooting in. There is also an optional grid, which can help keep things straight. Half press the shutter and the camera will set the focus and exposure, indicating the focus point chosen (in AiAF mode), plus the shutter speed and aperture chosen by the AE (auto exposure) system.
Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers fast access to a wide range of controls over shooting and image parameters including metering, white balance, ISO and file size / quality. There's also extensive tonal control available via the 'MyColors' menu. In shutter and aperture priority modes the setting is changed using the left and right arrow keys. In manual exposure mode the +/- button toggles the setting changed by the left/right arrow keys between the shutter speed and aperture. Half press the shutter and the display shows how far you are from the metered exposure as an EV value.
Record mode menu allows you to customize everything from flash synch to the spot AE point and self-timer delay. It is also here where you'll find the options for image stabilization. The setup menu - accessible in both record and playback modes - offers control over various camera-related parameters, including audio, file numbering, date and time and card formatting.
The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus a sound recorder. One of the three alternative play mode views includes a histogram display and exposure information. The usual options for viewing thumbnails (3x3) and magnifying (up to 10x) are available. One thing you don't get on an A series is Canon's smart new slideshow and transition options.
You can now apply 'My Colors' effects to saved images, which is much better than committing to it at the point you take the picture. The A710 IS has Canon's new Print menu, which simplifies the direct print process (something I must confess I've rarely used on any camera).