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Canon A460: $149.99 MSRP.
This is Canon's least expensive digital camera, at least in the USA. It sells for about $140 in February 2007 and it works fine. It replaces the 2006 A430.
An A460 is better than more expensive digital cameras were several years ago. If you think you'd like one of these, you'll love it. Like most cameras, the biggest limitation to picture quality will be your ability as a photographer, not the A460. See Why Your Camera Doesn't Matter and Camera Settings.
Forget used digital cameras. Digital cameras get so much better every six months that an inexpensive new one is better than a used one for the same price.
The A460 has a sharp, bright screen that works fine in sunlight. It also has much better battery life than earlier cameras.
I do a lot of photography and personally spend more on my cameras, but for normal people, this camera is great. If you are a photographer, the $199 MSRP Canon A550 makes it easier to get to the controls we use often, but the people most likely to buy this little camera have no idea what those adjustments are and won't notice.
If you're a stickler for technical image quality, go whole hog for the Canon A550 at $199. If you're on a budget, the A460 works fine, and worlds better than any camera phone or web cam. I've made great 12 x 18" (30 x 45 cm) prints from older Canon cameras with less resolution.
One caveat is if you use flash often. I don't: I use available light. The flash takes a long to time to recharge. This means that for 5 to 15 seconds after each shot the A460 locks up and blinks at you, and the flash eats lots of throw-away batteries. If you shoot a lot of flash, get the SD700 or SD800 which recycle in just a few seconds and have rechargeable batteries included.
It's bigger than the ultra-compact I use, but it still fits in my jeans pocket. The A460 isn't as flat as my wallet-size ultra-compacts, but it's still smaller than most digital cameras were several years ago.
Backlit Palm, exactly as shot with A460.
Gimmicks vs. Features
The A460 is inexpensive, but it's not cheap. It's made out of the same stuff Canon makes their other cameras. Canon makes excellent stuff. The A460 is worlds better than the nameless junk for which you can pay more from shopping channels. The A460 feels tight and precise, and the packaging is identical to the packaging, CDs and literature I get when I bought my $3,000 Canon 5D. The A460 is a quality product.
You pay more to get more gimmicks. You won't get much better pictures.
There isn't much missing on the A460 if you're on a tight budget. My biggest whine is that it has no dedicated zoom control: you have to use the up and down keys of the big four-way button on the rear, and when playing back, the zoom out button is the same as the DELETE button. Be careful.
The only things missing, compared to my favorite and more expensive SD700, is a convenient zoom control, no fast download speeds, slimmer size, image stabilization for use in dim light without flash, an included rechargeable Li-Ion battery (the A460 uses regular AAs), a perfectly fine 2" LCD instead of a 2.5" LCD, the panoramic stitch assist mode and a histogram.
Personally I usually use a more expensive Canon point-and-shoot because I want those luxuries. The pictures are the same if you're on a budget.
If you have an extra 50 bucks, go for the Canon A550 simply because of the dedicated zoom control on top of the camera. If you're a dedicated photographer, you'll appreciate the A550's very fast download speeds, more detailed playback information and histogram. I miss these on the A460. Most people wouldn't miss anything except the dedicated zoom control.
SPECIFICATIONS back to top
LENS: 5.4 - 21.6mm f/2.8 - 5.8. It gives a field of view similar to what a 38 - 152mm lens does on a 35mm film camera.
IMAGE STABILIZATION: NONE.
AF: 5 zone TTL.
OPTICAL VIEWFINDER: Yes, about 80% coverage.
SHUTTER: 1 - 1/2,000. Goes to 15 seconds in a trick manual mode: press the MENU button while in the exposure compensation menu.
SENSOR: Very small 1/3."
IMAGE SIZES: 2,592 x 1,944 pixels native; also 2,592 x 1456 (cropped), 2,048 x 1,536, 1,600 x 1,200 and 640 x 480.
JPG DEFAULT DPI: 180 DPI, only significant because I have to set it back to 72 DPI in Photoshop to get my © notice the correct size. Otherwise it's irrelevant unless you're putting text on your images or printing from Photoshop.
FORMATS: JPG, three compression levels. File sizes vary wildly with image complexity. I always use the smallest size, "Normal." The middle, default size is called "Fine" and the largest is called "Superfine." File sizes are optimized to each image, so very detailed images may have file sizes triple the file size of a blank, flat sky image. This is good and normal.
AUDIO FORMAT: WAVE, only as 60 second clips or with video.
VIDEO: 640 x 480 @ 10 FPS, 320 x 240 @ 30 FPS, 160 x 120 @ 15 FPS. Sequential motion JPEG AVI (not the more efficient MPEG).
ISO: AUTO, 80, 100, 200 and 400.
WB: Auto, Direct Sun, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent Warm and Cool, custom manual white card. No shade position, but the custom white card setting is so easy I don't penalize the A460 as I would other cameras.
FRAME RATE: 1.5 FPS rated, 1.4 FPS measured continuous: no change in focus, exposure or anything between shots.
METER: Evaluative, center and spot.
LONG EXPOSURE NR: Automatic if shutter speed is longer than a second. The A460 only goes this long if you set these speeds manually in a trick mode: press the MENU button while in the exposure compensation menu.
LCD SCREEN: 2," 86,000 pixels.
PLAYBACK HISTOGRAM: NO.
STORAGE: SD, SDHC card up to at least 2 GB. A 2 GB card indicates 2,655 images at the largest size and normal JPG compression, so if you need more, you're probably the sort of person who wants a fancier camera.
DATA TRANSFER: Slow, old USB 1.1.
VIDEO OUT: Yes, cable included.
MADE IN: China.
COLOR: Silver painted plastic with warm-tone brushed aluminum front plate and chromed plastic along top and side.
POWER: Two AA cells. I used it with regular throw-away Duracells. It also works fine with rechargeables. I'd skip the junky "heavy duty" batteries sold in dime stores.
SIZE: 4.17 x 2.04 x 1.58" W x H x D, rated, excluding parts. (106 x 52 x 40 mm)
WEIGHT: 7.520 oz. (213.1g), measured with alkaline batteries and memory card but no strap. Rated 5.82 oz (165g) buck naked: no battery or anything.
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES: Strap, Batteries, Video AV cable, USB cable, useless 16 MB memory card, Software CD including a great panoramic stitching program.
INTRODUCED: 18 January, 2007
AVAILABLE: April, 2007
PERFORMANCE back to top
It's missing a dedicated zoom control. I had to read the manual to find it: it's the up and down buttons of the rear four-way control! This is annoying. I'd pay the extra fifty bucks for the A550 just for this.
The worst thing about this is that the zoom-out button is the same as the delete button on playback. If you zoom around your playback images, you're going to see DELETE YES/NO? on your favorite shots, and wonder what to hit to skip it.
Because the zoom controls have moved to the four way button, the ISO and drive mode controls, which use those buttons on other Canons, have moved into the menu system.
It's not quite as fast to respond as more expensive Canons, not that you'd notice unless you already had other compact Canons. It's much faster than my old A70.
Otherwise it handles like most Canons, which is excellent. It uses the same menu system.
I never use these. It's a little peephole which zooms with the lens. I'm sure it works great; but I prefer the live LCD.
The LCD monitor is sharp, color-accurate and bright. It's more accurate than the 2.5" LCD of my $3,000 Canon 5D.
It changes its contrast as you look at it from above or below.
I measure 1.4 FPS (frames per seconds) at full resolution.
It does this free-running while holding the same exposure and focus for each shot. It's not like a DSLR which refocuses for each shot at those rates.
Images are sharp. The lens doesn't get soft in the corners. The colors are the usual great Canon colors I love.
If you're an expert photographer with enough skill to shoot well enough to pick apart technical image quality, you're not likely to own this camera. If you do, it's very sharp, but the small CCD sensor gives slightly grainier (noisier) images than other point and shoots. Of course like every point and shoot, it's always noisier than any DSLR like a Nikon D40.
It has a smaller than usual CCD: only 1/3." If you compare it closely to more expensive cameras it will seem grittier and more mottled.
If you're a normal person with a limited budget who wants nice photos, you'll never notice any difference between this and Canon's most expensive compacts. The images I've included with this article were shot with the A460 and they look swell.
Like all my other Canon point-and-shoots, I get the best results setting exposure compensation to -2/3. You do this with the FUNC SET button, click down to +-0, and two to the left to set -2/3.
Color rendition, or how the camera renders the real world, is everything. We artists spend a lot of time worrying about it. After exposure, color is everything to an image. Sharpness and the rest is irrelevant unless your exposure and colors are dead-on.
I've always preferred the color rendition of my Canon compacts to other brands. Like my other Canons, I get great colors on the A460.
I love vivid colors, and always set my Canons to their Vivid modes. To do this, press FUNC SET, click down three to "off," and click one to the right to "Vivid." Press FUNC SET again to set it.
Color accuracy is irrelevant. Cameras aren't scanners. Cameras are never supposed to duplicate color charts.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S (cropped, otherwise directly from the A460)
Auto WB (AWB)
Excellent! It's so good I have to learn to stop using the custom manual white balance in mixed artificial light. AWB usually woks better, automatically!
Unlike any SLR camera, the auto WB (AWB) of the A460 corrects perfectly under indoor household tungsten lighting.
Custom Manual WB (Gray Card)
This works great, just as is does on the other Canon compacts.
It's super easy to use - much easier than on the Canon SLRs!
The sensor for the custom WB is jut a small spot out of the image. It's easy to set the custom WB from a small point. I often set it from a cloud in the sky, letting in some blue sky for a resultant warming effect. Slicker still, I shoot a custom WB off my white socks!
AF is fine. It's always fast and accurate.
Flare and Ghosts
Sunset, Olivenhain, California, exactly as shot.
Looks good to me! I don't see anything.
Compact zoom cameras only zoom in fixed steps. They can't be zoomed to every exact setting, which tends to drive me nuts when trying to frame exactly. Most compact 3x zoom cameras zoom to about 7 different focal lengths and my SD700 with a 4x zoom has 9 settings.
This A460 can be set to 8 discreet focal lengths. They are reasonably well spaced.
It's great! It's sharper than some ultra-compact cameras like the SD800, which sacrifice optical quality for compactness. This is a hidden advantage of the larger size of the A460: it makes it much easier for the optical designers to make a great lens inexpensively.
You're in luck: the A460 has a regular excellent macro mode, and it also has a special hidden insane macro mode for use by special forces.
Here's how close the regular macro mode gets you:
Full frame at closest regular macro setting, wide angle.
Now let's see how close the Super Macro Mode gets us:
Super Macro Mode, full image.
Unsharpened crop from above at 100%.
This is the detail you'd see if you printed the entire image 25" (60 cm) wide!
The color fringes you're seeing are coming from the curved crystal of my watch. The depth of field is so thin that different hands are more or less in focus than others.
This is closer than you think: I'm holding my watch right up to the front of the lens. I'm having to shove the light in through a very small crack!
You set the Super Macro mode with FUNC/SET (click up to get to M) and one click left or right to S. You can use the digital zoom in this mode; don't because you'll lose sharpness.
Be sure to take the A460 out of Macro mode for normal use. If you forget, it won't focus to infinity, especially at telephoto.
Distortion is better than most compact cameras. It has barrel distortion at wide (less than most), but none at tele.
It's easy to correct in Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter.
5.4mm (wide): Barrel distortion, use +2.5 in CS2's lens distortion filter.
21.6mm (tele): None!
Wall of Shame at Tele: None.
LCA (Edge Color Fringes)
I can't see any with the A460. This is another advantage of the A460's larger mechanical size and bigger lens: the lens designers don't have to make as many optical compromises as they do when shrinking these lenses for smaller cameras.
Ryan seems to like it.
The second biggest complaint I have with the A460, which is one of the ways Canon saves you money in this $149 camera, is that the flash takes a long time to recycle after each flash photo.
It takes between 5 and 15 seconds to recycle after each shot, depending on the subject's distance. During this time the A460 locks up and blinks at you.
I don't shoot many flash shots. If I did, this would drive me crazy. If you shoot a lot of flash shots, you may want a more expensive camera. I suggest the SD700 or SD800, which recycle in just a few seconds and have rechargeable batteries. The A460 flash will suck throw-away batteries if you use it a lot.
The flash button cycles among AUTO, ON and OFF.
Red eye and slow synchro are set in the shooting menu.
Video is poor. It's sharp, but jumpy like an olde-tyme movie. Actually, it's jumpier: old movies were shot at 18 fps and the A460 runs at only 10 fps. Pick the $199 A550 if you want good video, or select the B/W or Sepia modes and party on.
You can get 30 fps, but only at 320 x 240 (small images).
Sound is mono.
The files are prefixed "MVI," not IMG.
File sizes are 6 MB for a 10s clip at 640 x 480 @ 10 FPS.
It uses an easy-to-play video format which isn't likely to require anyone to download software just to see your videos. The downside of this convenience is that the files are bigger than they would be if the A460 used a more modern and efficient coder like MPEG4, but these formats often require you go find software to play the files.
Sadly the wonderful panoramic stitch assist mode isn't in this camera. There is excellent stitching software included in the box for free. See Canon Panoramic Photography.
Get a different Canon (not the A550 either) if you want this mode.
It's slow. It takes 4 minutes to download 135 files or 100.8 MB.
I shoot hundreds of shots at a time, but the typical A460 user isn't likely to do this. If you want fast downloads, get the$199 A550.
It's the usual fat Canon single-language 113 page manual. I didn't read it all; there are usually quite a few neat tricks these cameras can play for those who read.
The manual also mentions the similar A450 which I've never seen. It may not be available in the USA. The A450 only has a 3x zoom.
I tried a set of conventional Duracell alkaline AAs. I got the low battery symbol at 450 shots. It shut off at 585 shots. This is great; digital cameras used to only give a few dozen shots on a set of alkalines. For the people who will be likely to get this A460, alkalines should last a long time.
I used not much flash, and I did make a lot of shots in the Continuous mode, which saves power. I also used the LCD, which does use the battery.
Most people will get less battery life. It uses a lot more power to use flash and to open and close the lens for each shot. I took a lot of shots every time I turned it on.
Noise and Grain
Most people will never notice this. If you do, get a different camera like the A550.
The A460 is worse than most cameras. This is because it uses a tiny image sensor, which has to be magnified more. The images are noisier or grainier, and can look more mottled.
ISO 80: A little noisier than other cameras. It's noticeable if you're looking for it. Oddly it has a lot of noise reduction (adaptive blurring) at ISO 80 and isn't as sharp as it is at ISO 100.
ISO 100: Sharper, but noisier, than ISO 80.
ISO 200: Sharp and noisy.
ISO 400: Sharp and the noisiest.
RECOMMENDATIONS back to top
If you think you want one of these and aren't wigged out by the lack of dedicated zoom control, get one.
Don't bother with used digital cameras; get a new one of these.
If you have an extra 50 bucks, get the Canon A550. It has a regular zoom knob by the shutter button and a lot of little extras which add up to more than $50 if you're picky.
If you have $300, I use an ultracompact Canon SD700.
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