The key to appreciating the 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot A480 is not to expect too much. It has basic, low-end camera specifications and can be snapped up for about £100. Generally, you have to spend about twice that to start getting newer technologies and features, and the A480 adheres to the rule. But this camera takes good photos, as long as your needs are modest.
The A480 is a stubby little camera. Available in four colours -- red, blue, silver and black -- it's not very wide or tall, but it's 30mm thick, so, while it'll fit into a trouser pocket, it might be a tight squeeze. From the front, the camera looks reasonably stylish. The lens is narrow at a 35mm-equivalent of 37mm and it has an optical zoom of 3.3x -- standard for inexpensive compact cameras. Regrettably, the buttons on the back look and feel like second-rate plastic, and the LCD, while a decent size, is fairly low resolution. To its credit though, Canon has kept the controls straightforward and simple, and the menu systems are also uncomplicated.
The A480 is powered by AA batteries, which most people will find convenient. You'll only get about 200 shots out of the A480 before they'll need replacing, however. Getting two NiMH AA rechargeable batteries should more than double your shot count, though.
Being the no-fuss camera that it is, the A480 predictably doesn't have many shooting options. The most complicated it gets is in program auto mode, which gives you options for white balance, focus, metering, ISO and colour effects. If you don't want to fiddle with any of those options, leave it in auto mode or choose from one of 12 special scene modes.
If you like taking plenty of close-up macro shots, the A480 might not be the best choice for you. You can get reasonably close -- down to 30mm away from a subject -- but the autofocus system isn't terribly accurate at that distance, even though subjects might look in focus on the screen.
Performance is slow, but not dreadfully so. It takes nearly 2 seconds for the camera to go from off to capturing its first shot. Shutter lag is below average in bright lighting conditions, at 0.6 seconds from pressing the release to capture. A positive point is that the A480 performs identically in dim conditions. Shot-to-shot times are mediocre, at 2.7 seconds without flash, and 5.6 seconds with flash. Finally, its continuous shooting time is only 0.6 frames per second.
The A480's photo quality is better than expected. Centre sharpness and detail are very good for such an inexpensive camera, although photos do soften up as you head off-centre, and noise/graininess is visible at full size, even at ISO 80. The A480 performs true to its class, delivering its best photos below ISO 200. Quality begins to decline between ISO 200 and ISO 400. Although ISO 800 photos aren't great, they're usable at small sizes. ISO 1,600 photos are bad and we only recommend using this setting for low-light emergencies where quality takes a backseat to getting a shot.