The Canon PowerShot A800 compact camera proves that you don't necessarily need to remortgage your home, sell your grandparents into slavery, and put both your kidneys on eBay if all you want to do is take a decent photo. It may not bear all the latest whistles and bells but, at around £70, it's one of the most affordable big-brand cameras available.
You might, understandably, assume any camera that costs so little probably isn't much cop. A glance at the A800's features list would seem to confirm those suspicions. Take the camera's resolution, for example -- a relatively conservative 10 megapixels. In reality, however, more megapixels can often mean more picture noise, so this figure alone isn't a good reason to rule out the A800.
Equally, the camera's 3.3x optical magnification may not seem like much in this day and age, but, for £70, it's a bonus to have any kind of optical zoom at all -- many budget cameras offer only poorer-quality digital magnification.
Also, while some may consider the lack of a rechargeable battery a negative point, there's a fairly large silver lining -- standard AA batteries last a long time and are easy to pick up from practically anywhere.
The A800 looks rather chubby but it's clearly more than just a toy. Despite the budget price tag, Canon has managed to inject style and personality into the camera's design, with the main body having a wedge shape, the thick end of which forms a kind of grip.
The camera is available in several metallic colours -- black, silver, greyish blue and red -- and, in all cases, the lens housing is finished in shiny silver. Overall, the camera doesn't look cheap in any way.
On the rear of the unit is a decently sized, 2.5-inch LCD display. It's not touch-sensitive and it has a pretty low resolution of 115,000 pixels, but it's otherwise perfectly adequate for lining up shots, accessing menus and so on.
The menus themselves are fairly basic. For example, there are only four shooting modes -- full auto, program, scene and video -- although this has the benefit of making the camera exceptionally easy to use. Those looking to experiment can explore the effects and presets available in the scene mode or make custom selections for ISO, white balance and metering options in the program mode. Still, the A800 isn't designed for much more than pointing and shooting.
There are a couple of bonus features. There's a histogram available in playback mode, for example, as well as a face-detection feature while you're shooting.
The camera's video capabilities are roughly what you'd expect from a budget device. Short clips of standard-definition, 480p footage can be captured, but the picture and sound quality aren't great.
The A800's photo performance, on the other hand, is well above average for a camera of its class. Colours are strong and balanced, and pictures are sharp without appearing too noisy. There's some clear chromatic aberration, but not as much as you might expect from such a cheap camera.
The lack of a proper image stabiliser is also evident -- blur affects fast-moving and low-light shots. That aside, the camera's low-light performance is actually fairly good. You'll start to notice picture noise and colour loss if you shoot indoors with the flash disabled, but we were pleasantly surprised by how well some of our ISO 800 test shots came out.
The Canon PowerShot A800 is on the chunky side and has about as many advanced features as a stick. But it's also very simple and convenient to use. For the money, you'd be hard-pressed to find a camera that takes better photographs. Indeed, we'd recommend it over many cameras we've seen on the other side of the £100 barrier. The A800 is an absolute steal.
Edited by Charles Kloet