Saturday, July 6, 2013

Canon Powershot A1200 Review

Canon Powershot A1200 Review- July 2013 Carl Garrard
Tis always the season for a new digital camera, and some of you like to get them on a budget. Hunting through the massive inventories of budget compacts on the market for the best deals isn't easy, but I've settled my sights on this little gem from Canon- the Powershot A1200 compact camera. Even with a wealth of experience with the camera market, choosing cameras to review is still a bit hit and miss. My goal is to bring forth reviews to my readers that are about interesting cameras that are a good bang for the buck. I carefully spend my time sifting through the various models old and new, to find little diamonds to share with you. So, is the Powershot A1200 a hit, or a miss for the price?

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Canon Powershot A1200 Introduction and Notes

The Powershot A1200 may be a generation or two behind but these days that doesn't mean you are necessarily going to miss out on any features or better image quality. Compact cameras are as they say a dime a dozen these days, and you can often find brand new samples of cameras two to three generations behind. That simply means the market is saturated and camera phones are becoming the preferred 'budget' photo device for many.

However, camera phones still have a long ways to go in terms of catching up to even the most affordable digital cameras in terms of controls and image quality. In some ways they will never be able to surpass the strengths of a dedicated digital still imaging device.

That said, even the newest digital cameras with loads of megapixels aren't really all that much better by default, often you gain nothing by going from 10-12mp up to 16,18, and even 20mp for tiny sensored compacts. Yes, 20mp these days- it's rather insane and completely unnecessary. Readers, get over megapixels, they won't impress your neighbors like they used too and you'll be just as unimpressed in any IQ advantage you think you might gain. Since 12 megapixels will yield a beautiful 20x30" print on your wall, you don't need more than that unless you want to print exquisitely detailed posters to hang... uh... yeah.

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Canons A1200 has a nicely spec'd 12mp CCD sensor and a 28-112mm f/2.8-f/5.9 equivalent lens. Resolution tops out at 4000x3000 in 4:3 shooting mode. It's also got a good range of ISO sensitivity from 80-1600 (and even up to 6400 in special low light scene modes). The LCD on back is a 2.7" 230K unit with 5 levels of brightness adjustment (plenty). It has a small but albeit useable optical finder (why these are becoming more rare is beyond me, they should become more prevalent!). It's processor is a Canon DIGIC 4 processor which basically means it's pretty up to date and able to give you great image quality especially at low ISO levels.

Back to the lens real quick.... it's wide angle aperture range is f/2.8 up to f/8, and at telephoto is f/5.9 all the way down to a teeny tiny f/17 hole. Although its max shutter speed is 1/1600th of a second, the aperture range should help keep the camera from maxing out on that shutter speed greatly. There is no image stabilization or onboard ND filter, but the A1200 gets along without one just fine. For such a budget camera this is a very decent spec, allowing wide apertures for low light (at least on wide end) and very small apertures in super bright light allowing you to shoot sunsets without topping out your max shutter speed.

The A1200 is true point and shoot, meaning no direct manual adjustments of shutter speed or aperture but you can fiddle with ISO, exposure value, white balance, custom colors (and art filters), metering type, etc.. all you want. The "my colors" setting allows for a custom setting so you can change sharpness, saturation, and contrast to your taste. For high ISO images, I recommend using low sharpness, low saturation, and medium contrast. There are plenty of controls for the A1200 on it's exterior and it has a pretty loaded menu system for a camera of its price and niche.

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There is no live histogram (added to my cons section) but it does have a good playback histogram. Still that's a crime but I understand that Canon wants the shooting experience to be as simple as possible for its intended audience. Histograms are complicated looking devices to the ignorant snap shooter. Therefore, bury an option to put one in the menu somewhere. Even enthusiasts love a good budget camera from time to time.

Let move on though. More about the A1200.

The A1200 also has very decent video at HD 1280 x 720 resolution (as well as 640 and 320 resolution options) that you can shoot in regular mode (30 frames per second) or in the "miniature" art filter mode as well. It's got a few options on the main control dial too that are interesting.  Along with three auto modes (one being the "easy" mode), it's got a discreet mode that disables all sound effects and assist lamp/flash options while still allowing most other shooting parameter adjustments.

The A1200 runs on AA rechargeable Nihm, regular alkaline, or lithium ion batteries. Battery life is excellent with Sanyo Eneloops or Lithium batteries, and still very decent with regular old disposable AA's. Use eneloops though, don't be a tool.

Canon Powershot A1200 Review- Real Life Performance
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This section consists of my findings using the A1200 for over a weeks time, running it through every imaginable shooting function or setting. I don't need longer than a week these days for a camera of this type to prepare these notes. So be informed, what I say is golden here. My notes aren't in any particular order of priority, just as they come to mind.

Overall Mechanical/Digital Performance Notes- The A1200 powers up very quickly, and shuts down quickly. I like that in a camera because sometimes photo opportunities present themselves in a split second and you need to be ready. You shouldn't have any issue waiting for the A1200, its ready to go in a second.

The A1200 is comfortable to hold with its sculpted body seconding as a grip, and the large buttons click with a confident sprung action- especially the 5 way controller. One handed shooting is recommended because of its decent grip, and it does so without the need of any external rubber inserts. That's nearly a first for me, most compacts feel like holding a wet bar of soap without any rubber. Not the A1200. The shutter release is snappy and the zoom toggle very well placed. The A1200 is a camera you'll like to hold and operate - with large or small hands. The A1200 ranks high in the ergonomic and handling department for me.

It's menu system is easy to use, and basically you can say it has two menu systems. One that is activated by pressing "MENU" (duh) and the other by pressing "FUNC. SET" in the middle of the 5 way controller. The second allows for changes in white balance, image settings and colors, image size, and single or continues shooting modes. The Menu button allows for all other camera settings (don't forget to press that button when you've got an image played back since there are many other settings and adjustments to scroll through). Overall the menu system on the A1200 is very familiar in the Canon Powershot family and one of the better menu systems out there. More high scoring points here too.

 Image Quality-  I find the A1200 most useful from ISO 80 to ISO 800. At ISO 1600, when shooting color images, there tends to be a lot of intrusive color noise blotching. I'd reserve the 1600 ISO mode for sepia and b/w shooting modes personally (or shoot in custom color mode with the settings I mentioned, and just desaturate your images in photoshop later). At base ISO the A1200 makes some very good looking images.

Great color and detail, best macro area magnification shown. Right out of camera.

Almost too good to be true considering I bought the A1200 direct from Canon as a refurbished unit for ... yep, $39.00. Color is spot on with auto white balance outdoors, but suffers a bit indoors under artificial lighting (very typical). Good thing the A1200 offers an easy to use custom white balance mode, which works fantastic I might say. So outdoors just set it to auto, indoors set it to the manual white balance, and you're good to go.

Untouched Jpeg at ISO 80

Shooting Performance Overall- As a landscape camera, it's going to be just dandy at base ISO. Color is very accurate and the lens is very decent (even wide open). Macro performance too is very decent as show above. Indoors it will suffer a bit, or lower light scenes, because it lacks image stabilization and good ISO 1600 performance. These days it takes decent ISO 3200 performance, image stabilization, and an f/2.8 or faster lens for me to consider a camera a good low light camera.

Color 1600 ISO out of camera

B/W 1600 ISO out of camera

This isn't to say you can't shoot with the A1200 in lower light, you certainly can if you like to use flash or keep the camera super steady and rely on a max 800 ISO setting. Or like me, I prefer to rely on b/w and sepia options for the highest ISO setting, as shown above. As a general performer, the A1200 is one of the best point and shoot cameras for its price (initial suggested retail included) that I've used. I'd avoid the later 14,16, and upcoming 18mp offerings from Canon honestly.

Canon Powershot A1200 Conclusion

Overall the Canon Powershot A1200 is a great little bargain as long as you don't absolutely require manual shooting modes or image stabilization. It makes punchy great color images and is much more versatile than a camera of this price range should be expected to be. For its price it's difficult to come up with a con list but the lack of a live histogram is certainly one to mention. Inexcusable and could be a deal breaker for some (not for me, but it's this camera's biggest blemish in my book and worth mentioning). The lack of a paper manual too can be mentioned.

The pro's speak for themselves throughout the review (if you've read it) and overall this is one heck of a good camera for the price that I'd recommend to anyone wanting a good camera on a budget or entering photography for the first time. Fact is a camera like the A1200 would satisfy most shooters needs  most of the time. Even serious shooters like myself who appreciate more control and options can appreciate a good bang for the buck pocket point and shoot camera at times. The Canon A1200 therefore is definitely a real hit for the price.

Be safe and happy shooting!
Carl Garrard
This is how you help me out!

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