The blocky A430 is about the size of a large bar of soap -- the right size to fit into a jacket pocket or a small bag. Its silver plastic body feels solid and weighs a relatively light 213g with two AA batteries and an SD card. Its LCD is a puny 46mm, but the small screen leaves room for a surprisingly decent optical viewfinder.
The control layout is direct and Canon-standard, with big buttons that feel comfortable, even for big thumbs. The back panel of the camera holds almost all of the A430's controls, taking advantage of the room that its tiny screen leaves unoccupied. The back holds a control pad that doubles as a zoom rocker and flash/macro control, a mode wheel and four buttons for display, menu, function/OK and printing, a fairly standard arrangement for cameras in this category. The shutter release and power buttons sit in solitude on the top side of the camera, separate from any other controls.
The A430 actually has some decent features for its price class, including a 4x zoom lens that gives it a slightly longer reach than most competitors. However, with a focal range of 39mm to 156mm (35mm equivalent) and a maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/5.8, it's fairly slow with a narrow angle of view. The lens is also strangely noisy, especially when the camera powers on and off. The camera supports sensitivity settings from ISO 64 to ISO 400, although shots taken at ISO 200 and above tend to be full of visual noise.
In addition to flexible manual operation, the Canon PowerShot A430 supplies a decent handful of scene presets, including portrait, snow, beach and night modes. Like other current Canon models, it also offers Color Accent and Color Swap, two quirky features that let the photographer isolate or change a colour in a photo. They're nifty for artsy, black-and-white-with-a-red-balloon shots, but they're not really useful features. The A430 also has a movie mode that can record VGA videos but only at 10fps -- its lower-resolution 320x240 mode can handle 30fps.
The A430 proved relatively quick and responsive in most of our tests, boasting a modest shutter lag of 0.7 seconds in bright light and 0.9 seconds in dim light. It took about 1.8 seconds to cycle between shots, though using the onboard flash bumped that time up to a sluggish 5.5 seconds. Burst mode was most impressive, maintaining a speedy frame rate of slightly less than 2.3 shots per second, regardless of image resolution.