You don't need to pay very much this year to get a pretty good digital camera. Solid budget models are becoming less expensive and offering better performance -- the Canon PowerShot A470 is one of the best examples of this trend. With a price tag less than £100, and under £80 if you shop around online, it produces surprisingly good pictures. It isn't the prettiest camera available and it doesn't have any flashy features, but for the price, it's hard to beat.
Canon tries to give the A470 a much-needed injection of style by offering four colour choices: blue, grey, orange and red. Unfortunately, colourful accents can't hide the camera's chunky, unattractive design.
It feels like a king-size chocolate bar, measuring 104mm long, 56mm tall, and more than 40mm thick. At 215g with an SD card and two AA batteries, it also weighs in as one of the heftiest budget cameras available. The lens and LCD screen both jut out uselessly from the body, giving it a bumpy, uneven feel. Compared with the huge selection of budget point-and-shoots on the market measuring less than 25mm thick, the A470 is downright huge.
On the bright side, the camera's large body makes it easy to grip and hold, and its wide design leaves room for large, simple controls that even our alarmingly large thumbs can comfortably manipulate.
A barebones feature set accompanies the A470's skeletal price tag. The camera's 38-to-132mm-equivalent, f/3.0-5.8 lens offers a slightly longer than usual reach -- 3.4x optical zoom -- but offers a narrower field of view than most snapshot cameras' 35mm-equivalent-or-wider lenses. A 64mm (2.5-inch), 115,000-pixel screen is the only method of framing your shot, and can be difficult to use on sunny days.
You won't find much in the way of controls on the A470, but adjustable ISO, exposure controls and manual white-balance settings offer some flexibility when shooting. It features the standard handful of scene preset modes, plus a movie mode that can record QVGA (320x240-pixel) movies at 30 frames per second, or VGA (640x480-pixel) movies at a slower-than-usual 20fps.
Finally, the A470 includes face-detecting autofocus and autoexposure, an increasingly popular feature that's still surprising to find on such an inexpensive model.
Despite a very slow flash, the A470 proved to be a surprisingly fast shot. In our lab tests, the camera took 2.1 seconds from power-on to first shot, and could capture a new picture every 1.4 seconds after with the flash disabled. With the onboard flash turned on, however, that wait exploded to 5 seconds.
With our high-contrast (bright light) target, the camera's shutter lagged a respectable 0.5 seconds, and with our low-contrast (low-light) target, the shutter lagged a truly remarkable 0.9 seconds. Most cameras, especially budget models, tend to lag over a second when shooting subjects in low light.
Between the low shutter lag and long flash recycle time, the A470 proves bittersweet in low light. While it can snap a shot very quickly at first, you'll be waiting a while before it can fire the flash again. Finally, the A470's continuous shooting mode captured 30 7-megapixel shots in 33 seconds for a rate of 0.9 frames per second.