Like its stablemate, the PowerShot A540, the compact Canon PowerShot A700 offers abundant manual controls, respectable image quality and acceptable ISO 800 performance. Either camera should appeal to enthusiast photographers or serious beginners who want some control over exposure and focus. But the A700's biggest edge is its 6x zoom lens, a nice step up from the A540's 4x glass. Plus, the A700 includes macro focusing down to 0.4 inches, a higher-resolution 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD, and a rear-sync flash that fires at the end of your exposure to keep car headlights from looking like laser beams.
A tad larger than the A540 at 94 by 64 by 43 inches and 255g (including SD memory card and two AA batteries), the Canon PowerShot A700 is easier to shoot in one-handed mode, since it's easier to shift your forefinger between the shutter and the zoom lever, both of which are mounted on top of the grip. The top panel also hosts a speaker and a recessed power button, with a green power LED that doubles as a position indicator for the 11-notch knurled mode dial. The dial lets you choose from the standard auto, program, manual, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and movie modes, plus Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene and Stitch Assist scene modes. It also offers an SCN setting to access nine other scene modes, including the unusual Color Swap. This mode lets you exchange one colour range in your scene for another.
The small optical viewfinder is useful for framing when bright light washes out the 115,000-pixel 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD.
Back-panel controls include a slider for alternating between recording and playback modes as well as a print-sharing button to mark images for DPOF (digital print order format) output. As with many other cameras, the EV button lets you adjust exposure plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments. Flash options (up) and macro or manual focus choices (down) are just a key-press away. Information, such as drive, meter and flash modes; image size and compression; exposure compensation and shots remaining can be turned on or off with the display button.
Frequently accessed shooting options and setup features are divided between the function/set and menu buttons, respectively. Activating the 2- or 10-second self-timer requires a trip to the menu, but the setting is sticky, so you don't have to repeat the process to take several pictures in a row using the timer.
The Canon PowerShot A700's 6x zoom range includes a moderately wide-angle 35mm (35mm equivalent) at the short end and a respectable 210mm telephoto at the long end. Fans of close-up photography will appreciate this camera's lens, which focuses down to 0.4 inches in macro mode. Manual focus activates an enlarged central LCD area and an indicator bar at the top of the frame. Most casual users will opt for either the 9-point automatic or the selectable single-point autofocus.
Exposure choices include evaluative, centre-weighted or spot metering. In spot mode, you can grab exposure information from the centre of the frame or from your selected focus zone. Shutter speeds range from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second, and f-stops cover f/2.8 to f/8 in automatic, manual, program, aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes.
Dual automatic-ISO settings let you choose between standard Auto, which includes ISO 64 through ISO 400, and High ISO Auto, which uses ISO 800 when necessary. You can also manually select ISO settings between ISO 80 and ISO 800.
Canon's My Colors option lets you shift the colours via presets including Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black-and-White, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone and Positive Film, which mimics film colour transparencies, plus a user-definable Custom Color mode.
As with other A-series Canon PowerShot cameras, optional 1.75x telephoto and 0.75x wide-angle lenses as well as a 52mm filter adaptor can fasten to a bayonet mount around the lens. A plastic collar covers the mount when not in use. Canon also offers a beefier HF-DC1 flash, which fits on a bracket that screws into the tripod socket and fires as a slave in cordless mode.
Low shutter lag, fast response, the available shutter-priority mode and a speedy but limited burst mode make the Canon PowerShot A700 a decent choice for fast-moving action and sports. Its speedy autofocus system snapped off a shot under bright, high-contrast lighting a mere 0.4 seconds after we pressed the shutter, while it took just 0.7 seconds under low-contrast illumination with the red focus-assist lamp. Continuous-shooting mode clocked 2fps regardless of resolution or compression, with seemingly no limit to the number of shots.