Canon PowerShot A4000 IS £169
29th Sep 2012 | 09:00
Canon's flagship A-series compact with 8x optical zoom
The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS is a 16MP camera that sits at the top of Canon's A-series of affordable, beginner-level compacts. And It really is a compact camera: viewed from the front, the Canon A4000 is not much bigger than a credit card. It's only around 24mm deep too, but still manages to squeeze in an 8x optical zoom with an equivalent focal range of 28-224mm.
Coming from Canon's PowerShot line, the A4000 IS favours functionality over fashion - although you could be forgiven for missing that detail at first glance. The A4000's minimalist metal body certainly wouldn't look out of place in Canon's more stylish range of IXUS point-and-shooters.
A 3-inch 230k-dot screen swallows up much of the rear of the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS, with a set of small control buttons dotted down its right-hand side. There are no dials here - just push-button controls - which could potentially make it slower to move between settings and make adjustments.
However, there is at least a one-touch movie button for instantly recording HD video. The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS shoots 720p at 25fps, with full-time Intelligent Image Stabilisation to help kill camera wobbles and keep footage smooth.
Newcomers to digital photography will no doubt appreciate the level of hand-holding the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS offers. The Intelligent IS system automatically adjusts the optical Image Stabilizer between six different modes in order to reduce blur.
There's also a dedicated Help button, plus a Smart Auto exposure mode that analyses the scene you're shooting and selects one of 32 different camera set-ups accordingly.
Sensor: 16.6MP (16MP effective) 1/2.3-inch CCD
Lens: 5.0-40.0mm f/3.0-5.9 (28-224mm equivalent)
LCD Screen: 230k dot, 3.0-inch TFT LCD
ISO range: ISO 100 - 1600
Dimensions: 95.3mm x 56.3mm x 24.3mm, 145g (including battery/memory card)
In a further nod to keeping it simple, the Canon A4000 IS comes with Live View Control. This mode doesn't dirty itself with talk of 'apertures' and 'white balance', but distills camera control into three simple on-screen sliders for brightness, colour and tone.
While it isn't exactly bristling with semi-automatic and manual exposure modes - Program mode is the closest you'll get - the Canon A4000 does at least enable you to set a custom White Balance and adjust exposure compensation up to +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments.
Elsewhere, the Canon A4000 IS's Face Detection system can pick out 35 faces in a scene and adjust focus and exposure appropriately, while Face Detection White Balance automatically optimises the colour for accurate skin tones.
Further highlights on the compact camera - priced at £169 in the UK and $199.99 in the US - include a Macro mode that can focus as close as 1cm, and six creative modes. These include Miniature, Monochrome and retro Poster Effects that can be applied to HD movies as well as stills.
Build quality and handling
Delicately proportioned and featherlight, the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS slips easily into a pocket - we're talking skinny jeans here, rather than clowns' trousers.
As you might expect, the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS's pint-sized proportions do mean that there's limited space for controls, and the buttons that are there are comparatively small. Take the control pad, for instance. It's tiny - we're talking fingernail size. As you can imagine, this can make it tricky to operate for all but the slenderest of fingers, particularly because there isn't much give in the keys.
On the whole, though, the Canon A4000 IS is very simple to operate. Canon's menu system remains one of the easiest to navigate, but you don't have to delve into it much when shooting.
Instead, dabbing the FUNC/SET button in the centre of the control pad brings up a quick menu of essential functions, such as scene modes, white balance and ISO.
The four-way pad gives you access to the settings for flash, focus and display, while tapping up on the pad triggers the green Smart Auto mode. This is a great idea for when you might be experimenting with a different shooting mode, but need to quickly return the camera to a point-and-shoot setup to grab a shot. A second tap on Auto returns the camera to the previously selected mode.
The remaining four buttons arranged neatly on the back of the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS are used to begin video recording, to enter the main menu, start playback (with the camera switched on or off - always a neat feature) and access the Help feature.
The Help key displays information about the the effect or function of the various camera controls on the rear LCD screen. It dishes out quite generic details, though.
We'd have preferred to see it being used to provide more in-depth information when cycling through the shooting parameters in the Function menu, where beginners might need more guidance. In fact, pressing the Help key when you're in the menu system simply quits out of it.
Initially, the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS seems quite a keen performer. In our tests, it took around 2.5 seconds to switch on and take a shot, while zipping from one end of the zoom to the other nudged 1.5 seconds. That's not bad for an entry-level camera, and neither is the reasonable shutter lag.
However, the Canon A4000 IS is a bit of a plodder when it comes to shooting speed. It takes 2-3 seconds between frames, and the continuous shooting mode runs (or rather lurches) at a quoted 0.8 frames per second. It certainly feels slow, with the shutter ticking along sedately like a bedside clock.
Are the pictures worth waiting for? At low ISO sensitivities, yes. The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS is capable of producing colourful, detailed, decently exposed pictures in good light.
Auto White Balance is generally accurate, although manually selecting a preset to match the conditions often provides a more accurate, slightly warmer result.
Pictures are clean and sharp at ISO 100 and 200. At ISO 400, edges are starting to break up and the black and white speckles of salt and pepper noise show through - although this is only really an issue when pictures are viewed at 100%.
By ISO 800, noise is obvious and fine detail becomes smothered by strong noise reduction. As expected, ISO 1600 really is stretching the small, high-res CCD sensor's capabilities too far.
The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS's lens, while providing a very useful range of focal lengths, does suffer from chromatic aberration. This manifests itself in the form of red halos along high-contrast edges and a lack of bite towards the edges of the frame.
It's also disappointing to discover that the optical zoom can't be used while 720p video is being recorded. Digital zoom is available, but that reduces image quality.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
These results show that the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS's JPEG files have a slightly lower signal to noise ratio than those from the Olympus SH-21, Panasonic Lumix FS35 and Canon IXUS 230 HS, although at the top end of the sensitivity range they all produce a very similar result. The Canon A4000 is most similar here to the other Canon.
JPEG dynamic range
Results for dynamic range are much more spread out for these cameras, with the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS's JPEG images starting out better than all the other cameras' at lower-to-mid ISOs, before falling to finish just above the Olympus SH-21 and Panasonic Lumix FS35 and a fair bit below the Canon IXUS 230 HS at the top sensitivities.
At ISO 100 and in good light, the Canon A4000 IS performs superbly, with pictures that are very clean and show excellent levels of colour saturation with good dynamic range. The camera's HDR-like i-Contrast function can be activated to open up shadows and hold back the highlights to improve dynamic range further.
Outdoors in sunny conditions, the Canon A4000 IS's Auto White Balance (top) delivers accurate colours that are very close to those achieved with the manual Daylight preset. In dull conditions, or when faced with strong colours, better results are frequently obtained using the presets or by creating a Custom White Balance (an easy process with the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS). Here, the difference between using AWB (top) and the Daylight preset (bottom) is, almost like night and day.
Boasting a 16MP sensor, the Canon A4000 IS produces images that are of a high enough resolution to enable fairly substantial cropping in software. However, this will exacerbate the effects of noise associated with the higher ISO settings.
Using the widest zoom setting, the Canon A4000 IS can focus on subjects as close as 1cm from the front of the lens in Macro mode. However, there's noticeable difference in sharpness between the centre and the edges.
The Canon A4000 IS's 28-224mm equivalent zoom offers a good range of framing options for everyday shooting. However, it's left a little wanting at the wide-angle when compared to the likes of the sub-£100/$150 Olympus VR-340 (24-240mm) and £150/$170 Nikon Coolpix S6300 (25-250mm).
The Canon A4000 IS's lens does show signs of chromatic aberration. In this image it's quite subtle, with colour separation only visible around the bird and towards the top of the building. It was particularly noticeable when shooting bright flowers against blue skies during our tests, with the petals taking on a faint red halo.
For the most part, the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS's evaluative metering can be relied on to give good results. In low light, some positive exposure compensation may be required to brighten up the image. In high-contrast conditions, the Canon A4000 IS has a tendency to favour opening up shadow detail - resulting in this scene being overexposed.
Despite the emphasis on automatic operation, the Canon A4000 IS does enable you to have some creative freedom. The camera has six dedicated creative modes: Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect and Toy Camera Effect (seen used here, with a touch of flash).
There are also scene modes to use when shooting snow, fireworks, long exposures, portraits and subjects in low light, although the resolution drops to 4MP for the latter.
Canon PowerShot A4000 IS at 5.0mm (28mm equivalent)
Canon PowerShot A4000 IS at 40.0mm (224mm equivalent)
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Best high-end compact camera
If you're looking for a fuss-free family compact camera, then the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS's versatile 8x zoom range, good build quality and undemanding point-and-shoot operation are likely to impress.
However, while Canon has delivered a reasonable set of features for the price, there are some sore points. With its slow shot-to-shot rate and lacklustre continuous drive setting, the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS isn't well suited to photographing fast-moving families. Its battery life is below average at 175 shots too, meaning more frequent recharges are required.
Video shooting is restricted to 720p (some rival cameras, such as the Olympus SH-21, offer 1080p), with the focus and zoom being locked once recording begins. Video quality is merely OK as well, with an overall lack of sharpness.
The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS is easy to get to grips with via its intuitive menu navigation and controls, and a Smart Auto mode that's mostly effective.
It's a slow-shooter, and the disappointing high ISO performance and so-so image stabilisation mean that it's not a particularly good choice for low light photography.
The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS faces some stiff competition from other entry-level cameras. It might be smaller and lighter and offer a larger LCD than its nearest rival, the Nikon Coolpix S6300, but in terms of key specifications, the Nikon has the Canon beat.
With the Coolpix S6300, you get higher resolution movies (1080p vs 720p), a bigger zoom (10x vs 8x), a wider lens (25mm vs 28mm) and a much longer battery life (230 shots vs 175 shots).
There are also cameras that offers bigger zooms for similar cash, such as the Panasonic Lumix SZ1.
Ultimately, though, if you can live with some of the drawbacks of the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS, then you're getting a camera that's capable of taking excellent images in good light at ISO 100-200 - although its performance at higher ISOs is less convincing.
The Canon A4000 IS is easy to carry with you all the time, so you'll be inclined to use it more often - and it's for this reason that it represents good value for the money.