Cameras

Canon PowerShot A4000 IS Digital Camera Review

We put the Canon A4000 IS through our full series of performance tests and were shocked at the results.

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Introduction

The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS is a mid-range entry-level model sporting an 8x optical zoom lens in a body slim enough to slip into your pocket. The camera features little in the way of manual control or creature comforts relative to the more expensive models in the PowerShot lineup, but is simpler to operate. The A4000 IS is the head of Canon's entry-level "A" series and features a 16-megapixel image sensor, 3-inch 230k-dot resolution screen, and optical image stabilization. Available in blue, red, silver, pink, and black, the Canon A4000 IS goes for an MSRP of 199.99.

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Front

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Back

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Sides

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In the Box

Box Photo

The Canon A4000 IS comes with the following accessories:

* Battery Pack NB-11L

* Battery Charger CB-2LD

* Wrist Strap WS-800

* USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU

* Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM

Lens & Sensor

The lens on the Canon A4000 IS offers an 8x optical zoom range, with an actual focal length range of 5-40mm, giving it a 35mm equivalent range of 28-224mm. As is the case with other cameras of this type, the lens telescopes out from the body, with zoom controlled by a toggle around the shutter release. The zoom control is a little finicky, so precise framing usually involves a combination of the zoom controller and physically moving toward or away from your subject. We wish the zoom toggle had a slightly larger nub, as it sometimes slips away from the index finger.

The sensor in the Canon A4000 IS is a 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor. It has a limited ISO range (just 100-1600), but noise rises appreciably at each level, so we doubt any higher settings would have much use. We found that at ISO 100 shots came out looking clean, for the most part, with an average noise result of around 1% at the minimum ISO. That's pretty high for a base ISO, though it's a cleaner looking image than higher ISO settings as it does not have noise reduction applied quite as heavily. With 16 megapixels you can downsize your images considerably at higher ISOs, but your effective print size will also begin to shrink.

Display(s)

The A4000 IS uses a rear 3-inch, 230k-pixel LCD. It's about what you would expect from an A-series (entry-level) Canon camera. It gets the job done, but it suffers in challenging lighting conditions, with visible banding on the LCD (and not on your final image) when pointed at strong light sources. It also gets washed out in direct sunlight, similar to other compact cameras. Overall, it's not the best LCD we've seen, but for solid performance at under $200, you have to skimp somewhere.

Connectivity

The A4000 IS shoots HD (720/25p) videos, but it only features a single USB/AV port behind a small plastic flap on the right side of the camera. The port is shaped like a standard mini-USB cable with a small hump to accommodate the audio/video output required. We tried a regular (non-Canon) mini-USB cable that we had in the office and found that it worked on PCs, but not on Mac computers, though that may be operating system-dependent.

Image Quality

The Canon A4000 IS had one of the best color accuracy scores we've seen in a camera for quite some time—not just a point-and-shoot, but any camera. That being said, it's still a compact camera with a compact sensor, so there are some image quality and performance bugaboos to be concerned about. Read on for our full image quality breakdown, with in-depth color, noise, and sharpness performance reports.

Sharpness

The Canon A4000 IS featured images that were quite sharp in the center of the frame, with gradually degrading quality spiraling outward from there. This is caused by diffraction as different colors of light focus at different areas. The camera compensates for this by upping contrast, though it does this mostly near the edge of the frame. The result is that the camera has great natural sharpness in the center, unnaturally boosted contrast on the edges, and disappointing performance midway. This is actually very typical of point-and-shoot cameras, so the A4000 IS is not different from the majority of cameras in that regard. Its center sharpness is very good though (and not boosted by software too much), so we'd merely suggest keeping subjects in the middle as much as possible. More on how we test sharpness.

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Image Stabilization

We found that the stabilization on the Canon A4000 was wholly ineffectual. In our tests, shots taken at 1/30th of a second with a repeated low shake (similar to holding the camera in your hand) produced very blurry shots. With the image stabilization active, those shots actually saw a reduction in sharpness (by a small amount, just 5%), as the system simply couldn't keep up. As a result we really can't recommend the A4000 for those looking for a camera to be useful in low light, either for its stabilization or its poor high ISO performance.

Color

The Canon A4000 IS breezed through our color accuracy tests, returning a color error of just 2.19 at ISO 100 under controlled, near-daylight lighting conditions. It doesn't feature much control over color, but we were amazed at just how well this little guy performed in our test. We normally feel comfortable recommending a camera if it has a color error of under 3, and we've only seen a handful of cameras return less than 2.2, so the Canon A4000 IS is in solid company.

The one issue we can say about the A4000 IS the lack of color control, as the camera has none. There are also none of the creative color modes that we've come to expect from Canon cameras. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

White Balance

The Canon A4000 IS's sterling color accuracy is largely owed to its ability to accurate diagnose white under daylight conditions. We found that its automatic and custom white balance also performed well in compact white fluorescent lighting, though its automatic white balance fared poorly under tungsten lighting, though this is typical of all cameras.

We actually found that the camera's custom white balance didn't perform quite as well as its automatic setting under daylight and fluorescent settings, though the opposite was true for incandescent lighting. Feel free to just leave the camera in automatic when outdoors and in an office-type setting, though if in a room light by regular light bulbs, you'll want to take a custom setting.

White Balance Options

The A4000 IS features just the standard outlay of five white balance presets, along with a custom and automatic option. The five presets include daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, and high (daylight) fluorescent. Custom white balances can be set from within the "function set" menu simply by pressing the "MENU" key while pointing the camera at a white or neutral gray object.

Noise Reduction

The Canon A4000 IS allows for an ISO range of 100-1600, and we found that it returned noise totals that ranged from around 1% (ISO 100) up to just 1.52% (ISO 1600). How does noise only rise 0.5% despite four stops of extra signal amplification? A heavy dose of noise reduction, of course. The A4000 Is gets solid noise totals as a result, though the fine detail is obliterated from the final image by the time you get to ISO 1600. We'd recommend keeping it below ISO 400, though you should be able to print decent ISO 100 images of daylight scenes up to 8x10'' as long as focus and exposure are correct. More on how we test noise.

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Detail Loss

Detail loss is significant throughout the high ISO images returned by the Canon A4000 IS, as you can see in our crops of our still life image. We don't recommend pushing ISO above 400 for that reason. If your only goal is to put the image up on Facebook, then the higher ISO settings are viable, though detail loss is still quite noticeable. There are no options for toning down noise reduction on the A4000 IS, as the camera has just its default JPEG image setting.

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ISO Options

ISO can be set on the A4000 IS through the "function set" menu, brought up by pressing the FUNC. SET button on the rear four-way control pad. The options are whole-stop settings from 100-1600, with an automatic ISO setting that adjusts sensitivity based on scene brightness.

Chromatic Aberration

We found that the lens on the A4000 IS controlled for chromatic aberration fairly well, though the wheels come off a bit when pointed at a very high-contrast scene, such as branches against a blown out sky. This results in all the typical performance issues, including purple fringing. In our resolution chart examples we saw a more typical blue/orange lateral chromatic aberration, resulting in colored edges on the chart where there should be none. These aren't terribly significant unless viewing an image at 100% magnification on a computer screen, though that diffraction is what causes edge sharpness to fall off significantly, so it impacts other areas as well.

Distortion

The 8x optical zoom lens on the A4000 IS does not suffer heavily from distortion in the final JPEG image. The performance aligns with what we typically see out of lenses with a large zoom range: barrel distortion at the wide end, no distortion at the midpoint, and pincushion distortion as you zoom all the way in. This ranges on the A4000 IS from 1.45% barrel distortion (wide end) to 1.2% pincushion distortion (telephoto end) though neither amount is much to be concerned about.

Motion

The Canon A4000 Is struggled to maintain fine sharpness when recording video of objects in motion, with some noticeable interference and color bleeding. Otherwise the camera held up pretty well, though colors looked quite flat compared to still shooting. This is likely due to how the camera downsamples, without a fast enough processor to account for all the depth and color tone of the scene and still record full HD. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

Sharpness on the A4000 IS was quite poor when recording video, which may be due in part to the lens but also the low quality compression on the camera. The A4000 IS includes 720/25p modes (regular and iFrame) but low bitrates. The camera also doesn't process images extremely fast, so there are significant downsampling errors as the camera tries to produce 25 frames per second. All in all we were only able to see sharpness amounting to 400 lw/ph vertically and horizontally, with heavy banding visible on any sharper patterns. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low light sharpness didn't degrade on the A4000 IS compared to bright light testing, which is something to at least be relieved about. The low light sharpness test also returned just 400 lw/ph of sharpness vertically and horizontally, with heavier banding visible at specific focal lengths. This took the form of large purple and green blobs that covered patterns of fine lines. Either way, we recommend that you find an alternative camera for video if quality is a high priority, as the A4000 IS struggles in this regard.

Usability

Canon has a very specific customer in mind for their A-series cameras: those who just want a camera they can point and shoot with. A-series cameras typically feature little, if any, manual control over settings and the A4000 IS is no different. The camera allows you to select some options, but the camera features little exposure control. Surprising for a Canon product (though not for an A-series model) there's little creative control either, with no color modes (besides a couple scene modes), in-camera editing, or other options to really fine-tune your images. The A4000 IS is, quite simply, a dead simple point-and-shoot camera.

Automatic Features

Shooting with the A4000 IS is a purely automatic affair, with very limited user settings for adjusting what your camera is intending to do.

Buttons & Dials

The buttons on the Canon A4000 IS are perhaps the one area where ease of use is not the paramount concern. The camera is very slim, and its buttons contribute to this by being very low profile, hugging against the compact body of the camera. The only buttons that really raise up from the body are the four-way control pad and function-set buttons (a good thing, since that's the primary way to control the camera), but the help button, video record button, menu, and playback keys are all a little harder to push. None of the keys have much of a haptic response, offering no audible click when depressed.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The various shooting modes on the camera are accessed by the function menu, which is brought up by pressing the "FUNC. SET" button on the back of the camera. When highlighting the topmost option, pressing the right or left key brings you to another shooting mode.

The menu on the Canon A4000 IS is split into two types: function settings and advanced settings. The function settings are all exclusively found in the function menu, brought up by pressing the FUNC. SET button on the back of the camera. These include shooting settings like ISO, exposure compensation, shooting mode, white balance, video quality, and image size. More advanced settings are located in the camera's menu (brought up with the menu key), and include things like red-eye correction, digital zoom, AF frame, stabilization settings, and system settings like formatting your memory card. There's also a playback menu, but it's only found by pressing the menu key while reviewing an image or video.

Instruction Manual

The A4000 IS includes a standard quick start manual with the camera, as well as a more in-depth manual that is available on the included CD-ROM. The manual comes in .PDF form and is available in English and runs 170 pages, including index, disclaimers, and covers. It covers options in much greater depth than the getting started manual, though it does keep things simple as you'd expect with an A-series Canon camera.

Handling

The Canon A4000 IS is a slim little camera, despite its 8x optical zoom range. It can easily fit into a pocket or jacket, with the camera's depth measurement coming in at just a hair less than an inch. The camera doesn't feature any kind of a grip material though, unless you count the raised lettering on the front of the camera. The back of the camera, too, is without any kind of rubberized material that will let you grip the camera. This makes one-handed shooting very dicey, and it seems Canon designed the camera with the idea that it would be shot with two hands gripping the four corners of the camera.

Altogether we aren't too impressed with the way the camera handles, and it's difficult to imagine keeping the camera too steady at the full 8x optical zoom range. The front "Canon" lettering works to at least keep the index and middle fingers from sliding around the camera. The buttons themselves are also quite small on such a compact camera, and many don't rise appreciably from the body itself. We thought the shutter release was nice and offered just the right amount of resistance, though the zoom toggle has only the smallest nub that lets your index finger manipulate it, meaning it can slip away from your finger.

Buttons & Dials

The buttons on the Canon A4000 IS are perhaps the one area where ease of use is not the paramount concern. The camera is very slim, and its buttons contribute to this by being very low profile, hugging against the compact body of the camera. The only buttons that really raise up from the body are the four-way control pad and function-set buttons (a good thing, since that's the primary way to control the camera), but the help button, video record button, menu, and playback keys are all a little harder to push. None of the keys have much of a haptic response, offering no audible click when depressed.

Buttons Photo 1

The A4000 IS has basic buttons for control, but many are set far in against the body of the camera and can be hard to depress.

Buttons Photo 2

The top of the camera features the camera's zoom toggle, which has just a tiny nub letting you manipulate it.

Display(s)

The A4000 IS uses a rear 3-inch, 230k-pixel LCD. It's about what you would expect from an A-series (entry-level) Canon camera. It gets the job done, but it suffers in challenging lighting conditions, with visible banding on the LCD (and not on your final image) when pointed at strong light sources. It also gets washed out in direct sunlight, similar to other compact cameras. Overall, it's not the best LCD we've seen, but for solid performance at under $200, you have to skimp somewhere.

Image Stabilization

We found that the stabilization on the Canon A4000 was wholly ineffectual. In our tests, shots taken at 1/30th of a second with a repeated low shake (similar to holding the camera in your hand) produced very blurry shots. With the image stabilization active, those shots actually saw a reduction in sharpness (by a small amount, just 5%), as the system simply couldn't keep up. As a result we really can't recommend the A4000 for those looking for a camera to be useful in low light, either for its stabilization or its poor high ISO performance.

Shooting Modes

Under one shooting mode setting in the function menu, the A4000 IS stores all the various shooting modes that the camera can access, excluding the completely automatic mode, which is accessed by pressing the green AUTO button on the back of the camera. The A4000 IS doesn't have much creative control here, but it does have the following: program automatic, live view control, portrait, FaceSelf-Timer, low light, fish-eye effect, miniature effect (with video), toy camera, monochome, super vivid, poster effect, snow, fireworks, long shutter, discreet, and IFrame movie.

Manual Controls

There's no real manual control on the A4000 IS, though the camera does support the user selecting ISO speed, white balance type, and exposure compensation. The camera's exposure compensation works in 1/3-stop settings, on a +/- two-stop scale, letting you adjust brightness in your scene.

Recording Options

The A4000 IS offers shooting settings of large, medium 1, medium 2, small, and widescreen sizes. The sizes correspond to 4608x3456 (large, 16-megapixel), 3264x2448 (medium, 7.9-megapixel), 1600x1200 (1.9-megapixel), 640x480 (small, VGA), and 4608x2592 (widescreen 16:9, 11.9-megapixel) images. The camera doesn't let you select the quality of compression, but the maximum size images are 4Mb, so you'll fit around 1,000 16-megapixel shots on an 8GB memory card.

Speed and Timing

The Canon A4000 IS not a camera predicated upon speed. That's a good thing, because in the animal kingdom the A4000 IS would not be long for this world. If you'd like a camera that will let you hold down the shutter button and ponder the wonders of the universe with only an occasional interruption to take a photo, then the A4000 IS is for you. The camera's low light shooting option does up continuous to a little over 2fps,

The A4000 IS offers two shooting settings: single and continuous. The mode can be selected through the camera's function menu, and is signified by either a single frame or multiple frames laid on top of one another. The continuous speed is rated at just 0.8fps by Canon (2.8fps in low light mode), and we found that to be pretty close in testing the camera.

The A4000 IS managed a continuous shooting speed of just 0.7fps over five shots, putting it among the slower cameras in the class. It is, however, right around the claimed speed of 0.8fps, and the camera did not seem to have any upper capacity. This means you can sit there and record JPEGS all day. It won't take a lot of pictures in a short period of time, however, so fast-moving action is probably not the A4000 IS's strong suit.

The A4000 IS includes a moderate level of timer functionality, with the standard two- and ten-second delays along with a custom option. The custom setting lets you tell the camera to take up to ten shots after a delay of up to 30 seconds. You can't use it for much interval timing, however, because the selected delay applies only to the first shot, each subsequent shot is taken at just a one-second interval.

Features

If you're looking for the latest whizz-bang features that compact cameras have to offer, the A4000 IS is probably not for you. If you want a camera that has a respectable lens (8x optical zoom) and sensor (16-megapixel CCD) with the basic features and little else, the A4000 IS is a good option. The camera won't amaze your friends with features, but at under $200 it's got enough where it counts to be worth serious consideration.

Recording Options

There are only a few different kinds of video recordings that you can take with the Canon A4000 IS, with the maximum being the camera's 1280x720 at 25fps video mode. That can be take in standard mode or the camera's dedicated iFrame movie mode. The iFrame videos are slightly higher bitrate and fit into programs that can edit iFrame a little better, though quality doesn't seem to be improved all that much subjectively. The camera also can record a miniature video in the "miniature effect" mode, but it slows the shots down to 5fps or lower (6fps or lower in VGA mode). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

When recording video the A4000 IS doesn't really provide any manual control. While recording video the zoom controls and focus are locked in, and the camera doesn't attempt to refocus images if your subject moves, for example. The camera does have a built-in mono microphone, but there's no control over what it does.

Auto Controls

When recording video almost all of the video settings are simply retained, including some of the scene modes. The miniature mode, in particular, is worth noting because it retains the miniature effect in the video, though only at 5fps. Other than that brightness controls seem to be pulled in, though all the on-screen labels and information is hidden when recording a video.

Zoom

The zoom is fixed when you begin recording a video, but you can zoom in prior to pressing the record button. In that case the full 8x optical zoom is available, but once you record you're stuck at the field of view until you press stop.

Focus

Focus, also, is set entirely prior to recording a video. If your subject moves then the camera will not try to track focus. The Canon A4000 IS' lack of control here is troublesome, but unsurprising. If you are looking for a camera as a primary video recording tool, the A4000 IS is not it.

Exposure Controls

As with the rest of the controls for video, exposure, aperture, shutter, and ISO control are all camera-determined. It's unclear if those are retained from settings prior to beginning a recording, but it appears that the A4000 IS simply takes over exposure while recording video and decides on the optimum settings.

In the Box

The Canon A4000 IS is as about as simple a point-and-shoot as it gets. With little in the way of flashy design, headline-grabbing features, or manual control, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the camera wasn't capable of great images. In great lighting conditions, however, the A4000 IS is a sterling performer. 

The A4000 IS certainly struggles in several performance categories (speed and low light shooting chief among them), but it offered some of the best performance in bright light, low ISO shooting that we've seen from a point-and-shoot in awhile. With solid sharpness, incredible color accuracy, and decent macro skills, the A4000 IS offers a heck of a bright-light photo.

Unfortunately, the camera is let down by a lack of control, poor image quality beyond ISO 100 or 200, and a very slow shot-to-shot speed of less than one frame per second. That won't be a deal-killer for everyone, but it's certainly going to turn off a few potential buyers.

Whether you want to pick up the Canon A4000 IS will depend, primarily, on two key factors: do you want a lot of control in your camera, and do you want a camera that provides good low light shots at a decent speed? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then look elsewhere. If you want a camera that is dead simple to operate, doesn't confuse you with a lot of fancy options you'll personally never use, and you only take pictures in bright conditions, then the A4000 IS is one of the best values you'll find at just under $200. 

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