Canon PowerShot A1200

At PC World, we've checked out some of the top-specced digital compact cameras on the market. The PowerShot A1200 sits at the opposite end of the scale, proud in its position as Canon's most entry-level model.

NameDigital compact camera: Canon PowerShot A1200
At a glance:4x zoom (28-112mm equivalent),Traditional optical viewfinder,Runs on two AA batteries,Overly 'cheap plastic' feel
Summary:An entry-level camera that offers great image and video quality for the price.

At PC World, we’ve checked out some of the top-specced digital compact cameras on the market. The PowerShot A1200 sits at the opposite end of the scale, proud in its position as Canon’s most entry-level model.

The A1200 is highly reminiscent of an inexpensive film camera from the 1990s: from its basic plastic frame, to a hard-to-turn mode wheel that feels just like an old manual film-advance. The camera also features an optical viewfinder, which has become exceptionally rare on all but the highest-end digital compacts.

Unlike its film-based ancestors however, the A1200 sports a 2.7-inch, 320x240 pixel display. That’s not particularly large or high resolution, but it gets you through the simple menu system (familiar to any Canon camera user), and shows you what you’re pointing the camera at.

The viewfinder zooms in synch with the lens, but it doesn’t provide 100% frame coverage – that means it’s not the best tool for framing your shots. Add the fact that the optical design make it akin to looking at a postage stamp through a telescope, and the viewfinder’s only real use is clear. It’s a crutch for those switching from film to digital late in the game, and unsure that they’ll want to frame shots on-screen. With this viewfinder, on-screen is the way to go.

The 4x zoom is limited, but the camera performs well across the entire range. 28mm at the wide end is great for capturing group shots close up, or sweeping landscapes from afar: 112mm is rather short at the telephoto end, but this is not a high-zoom camera by any means.

Image quality from the 12.1-megapixel sensor is surprisingly good for the price. There’s some fine-grained image noise in all shots, most visible in darker areas. I’ve seen equal or greater noise from cameras well above the $500 mark.

Colours are well represented and I managed to take some fairly decent night shots without the flash: long exposure and no tripod made for a slight blur, but not enough to ruin a shot intended for on-screen display or a small print.

The A1200 records video at 720p HD, 24 frames per second. Video quality is good although like most compact cameras, sound quality leaves something to be desired.

The greatest downside I found was the lack of fine manual control – you have a broad enough range of scene modes and a reasonably capable ‘Auto’ mode, but no direct control over shutter speed, aperture or focus.

Unlike higher-end models, the camera takes two AA batteries. Canon points out that this is great for travelling, and it’s true. Extra Lithium-Ion or Lithium-Polymer battery packs for cameras can come at high prices, and can have their lives shortened by sub-optimal charge patterns and excessive cold or heat. While the environmentally unfriendly option, disposable AA batteries – or, less unfriendly – more cheaply replaceable AA rechargeables, provide a solution to that problem.

If you’re after a lightweight travel camera, that won’t incur huge costs or insurance claims of lost, stolen or dropped from a rollercoaster, buy an A1200. For a carry-everywhere digital camera, spend a little more if you can.

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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