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A couple of years back I discovered that not only could I buy some outstanding bargains at eBay, but that used properly it could also give me a very lucrative extra income.
I have a large picture framing workshop at the rear of my house (850 sq. feet) which came about almost accidentally when I hung onto the equipment after a speculative retail business venture went wrong in the early 1990's. As well as all the framing equipment, I now also have literally about 20,000 or so "fine art prints" and oil paintings of all shapes and sizes, which for years simply sat on shelves in my workshop, only being used occasionally for golf prizes, presents, etc.
But when I discovered eBay it meant I now had an instant online outlet for all this surplus stock.
Of course, on eBay the old saw of "a picture is worth a thousand words" is more than simply a saying. If you have a good image of the item you are selling on your listing, then it increases your chances of selling that item tenfold. This is especially true when the item you are selling is a picture that people will hang on the walls of their home or office, like a fine art print.
This is why it became absolutely essential that I acquired a good digital camera.
For a while I used my daughter's FujiFilm A330, which I was relatively happy with, but it had got to the stage we were starting to fight over it. She'd want the camera for a night out with her friends; I'd want it to put up a few new eBay listings.
So I got busy on eBay and at Ciao, dooyoo, and other review sites to find myself a decent digital camera that would fit my needs.
The main features I was looking for were simple enough. Simple to set up and use, as I'm a total dunderhead when it comes to all things technical. Point and shoot, so that I didn't have to be messing about with complicated settings every time I wanted to photograph something. A zoom facility, in order that I could take close up pictures of some items. Good quality, clear images. And last of all, a price that wasn't going to put a huge dent in my bank balance. (After all, I am a Scotsman!)
The camera I eventually purchased was the Canon PowerShot A85.
Before I get into the meat of this review, let me give you fair warning. I'm no technical genius. I've been known to get confused turning on a bedside lamp. (It had no bulb, and it wasn't plugged in. What do you expect? Heh, heh) So if you're looking for a highly specialized breakdown of all the A85's features and gadgets then you're reading the wrong review. Go instead to one of the specialized camera review sites, where I'm sure you'll find all the techie jargon your heart could ever desire.
Instead I'll do my best to give you a straightforward, hopefully easy to understand review of why I like this particular camera.
Simple to set up and use? Point and shoot?
Yep. The Canon PowerShot A85 meets these criteria admirably.
Slot in 4 x AA batteries, set the camera to "auto" mode, and that's you ready to take your first photos. I found after a while that it tended to eat batteries like a ravenous wolf, which can prove expensive if you use the camera a lot. So I invested in a 12 pack of rechargeable batteries, so that I always have fully charged batteries to fall back on when the ones in the camera begin to run low.
In fact, there are 13 different shooting modes on the camera which you can select for different scenes and settings, like when you're on the beach, foliage, snow scenes, etc. Personally I find it simpler to simply set the wee circular dial on the top of the camera to "auto", and let the technical geniuses at canon select the appropriate settings for me.
Likewise with the flash. You can also set this to auto mode, so the camera will decide when and if you need extra light. I generally find that the colour reproduction and clarity of the photo is actually better if I can manage to take the picture without the flash turned on, so I tend to disable it and only use it when it's absolutely necessary. A mode that I do use from time to time is the "macro" facility, which allows you to take crystal clear pictures in extreme close up. This is handy for me if the item I'm trying to sell on eBay is very small, and thus difficult to portray accurately using normal picture settings
There's also a mode that allows you to use the camera as a mini camcorder to record short bits of video, but I've never actually had cause to use this. (Although my daughter has done so a few times)
There's a simple little on/off switch on the top of the camera, and another simple little camera or view images switch on the back. Camera mode to take pictures, and viewing mode to look at them, so nothing too complicated here.
You have a choice (as with most digital cameras) of either looking at the image you're about to shoot either through a wee 1.8" LCD screen on the back of the camera, or through a simple optical viewfinder. With some other digital cameras I've used the LCD screen can be difficult to see properly, especially in bright sunlight, but there's no such problems with the Canon. In fact, I don't think I've *EVER* used anything other than the LCD screen.
The zoom facility is again very simple to use. From time to time I might want to get a close up of something, either a person or an image of something for eBay, and the 3 x Optical zoom makes this very simple at the simple press of a button on the front of the camera. If I want to get closer still then I can a digital zoom function, which will increase the magnification by another 3.6 times, but I've never used this.
Then there's the "macro" function I mentioned earlier, which will allow you to take clear pictures from as close a range as 5 centimeters!
Clarity of Images
Here's where the Canon really excels. For a camera which only has a resolution of 4.0 Megapixels (small by today's standards) the clarity and colour quality of the pictures is truly exceptional. Of course, you *DO* get poor quality, fuzzy images from time to time, but you can delete these simply enough and try the shot over again until you get it right. I've found that more and more I seem to be able to manage to get the images I want first time of asking, especially compared to my daughter's old Fuji Film A330. (3.0 Megapixels) Often with the Fuji it would take me ages to get the shot I wanted, (if at all!) and I used to find this very frustrating.
It's very simple to save your pictures to your PC or laptop. The camera came with software for the PC, although I have to say I never had to actually use this. I use a photo suite called "Picasa 2" supplied free on the web, and find it brilliant. It automatically detected my camera the first time I connected it to the USB, and gave simple, clear instructions on how to go about saving any or all of my pictures.
The camera is also enabled for something called "PictBridge", which basically means you can plug it directly into a compatible photo printer without having to upload your pictures onto a PC. Again, I've never used this, as I tend to "edit" my photographs first using Picasa. The bundle that came with the camera also included software for a Picture Suite called "ArcSoft", but I can't comment on how good or bad it is 'cos I've never used it.
My camera came with a 128Mb memory picture card. I believe that when you buy one new it only comes with a 32Mb card, but you can upgrade to any card up to 1.0 Gb in size. This also means you can print pictures direct from the memory card on any printer that has a memory card reader.
Anything Else Worth Mentioning?
Hmmm. Size I suppose. The camera fits comfortably into a jacket pocket, and isn't particularly heavy, so it's no great strain to carry around when your away on holiday. (If I don't have a jacket on, then it goes in the better half's handbag!)
I also like the way the lens automatically pops out from the body of the camera when you power it up, and then retracts when you turn it off. There's a clever wee shutter that closes over the front that protects the lens from scratches, dust, etc, so you don't have to be constantly cleaning it.
Anything I Don't Like?
Well, yeah. I found the large instruction manual that came with the Canon *VERY* daunting and off-putting. I suppose they *HAVE* to include all the techie stuff for those camera and photography buffs who're into stuff like that, but for the average Joe soap like myself it can be like trying to decipher a foreign language. Compare this to Philips instruction manuals, for example, who have all the techie stuff, but *ALSO* a quick start section for those of us who don't have degrees in Advanced Electronics!
The end result is that I tend not to even attempt to use the instruction manual, and instead pick my way by trial and error through the very complicated menu systems that you can access on the LCD screen. And believe me, it's more failure than success, although in the year or so I've had the camera I have managed to master a few more complicated procedures than I could to begin with. For example, I've now discovered how to "lock" selected pictures I've taken to stop my daughter deleting them before I get a chance to upload them onto the old PC.
I bought my camera in "as new" condition at eBay, and paid just over £60. I've had a quick investigation, and it seems you can now buy them new at eBay for about the same price. But as with any purchase, it pays to shop around and to investigate the various outlets on the Web for the best deal.
I highly recommend this budget camera for anyone who wants to take good photographs, but who isn't particularly gifted when it comes to mastering the high tech specifications of some cameras.
What Came In The Box
1. Canon PowerShot A85 Camera
2. Wrist Strap
3. 128 Mb Compact Memory Card
4. 4 AA Batteries
5. Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
6. ArcSoft Camera Suite CD-ROM
7. AV Cable
8. Interface Cable
© KenJ October 2007
P.S. You can't post any pictures with a review here at dooyoo, which is a pity when you're reviewing something like a digital camera. But if you want to look at some pictures I've taken with this camera, then go to the "Community" section of the eBay website, and search for member "cujimmy51". This will take you to my eBay profile, where you can look at as many pictures taken with this camera as you like.
I have been using the A85 for over a year now, I can honestly say I've had the best performance from it of any camera I have owned so far.
The unit itself is rugged and well built with the battery enclosure providing a nice gripping area for when shots are taken. The rear is taken up by the LCD screen which suffers from very little glare in bright lighting conditions. With my previous cameras I often found I reverted to the viewfinder in bright sunlight. Not so here. Also residing on the rear is a selector switch that allows you to switch between playback and photograph, buttons for display mode, printer/pc download, menu access and function select. There is also a four way curser key and a central "set" key which makes navigating the wealth of menus a breeze.
Most cameras at this level are awful to use if you don't know what you are doing. Canon have taken most of the guesswork out with an extensive level of presets accessible from the top dial. You can select settings covering Portrait, Vista, night-time, sports/motion, a multifunction environment setting and record video clips among others. You can even use a built in tool to take panoramic shots which you then stitch within the provided software. Of course you can always set the camera to Auto and let it choose itself. If you are not the best at timing your shots it can even be set to repeat fire when the shutter key is held down. Possibly an ideal way of catching that winner at school sports days?
There is a 3x optical zoom backed up by a optional 11x digital zoom controlled from a nudge wheel set around the shutter key.
Should you wish to use other lenses there is also the ability to fit these by removing the bezel cover on the front.
The camera takes Compact Flash cards and a 1Gb card will give you around 500 images at the highest quality setting. Settings can range from size based to quality based and any combination of the the two.
Should you wish to use the camera to its limits however it excels, you can manually set white balance, aperture, f-stop, shutter speed, you can even specify the type of light metering to use. This allows for some very special effects simply by using the cameras potential. There is also the standard range of preset effects going from sepia toned to negative. black and white etc, however I often get better results from image manipulation via programs like Photoshop.
When you are finished you will want to download your images. The bundled software allows you to specify how you would like this to happen. I choose to save all shots from each day in the same folder. It will name this for you to your specifications.
However the utility doesn't end there, with the software you can remotely control your camera via USB, triggering remote shutter or even a timed regular image. If you had the will power I guess you could even perform some simple time-lapse or animation with it.
I purchased this camera a couple of months ago after my trusty twenty year old Nikon snapper finally spluttered its shutter. I bought it from Argos where it cost £149.99, reduced from £229.90 and I've just done a price comparison on Kelkoo, which brought up Amazon as the cheapest supplier at £143.99. It is my first digital camera and I've been having lots of fun with it.
I was initially concerned about the amount of pages in the user guide as I prefer just playing about and getting the feel of things rather than reading through instructions,
but I needn't have worried it's not difficult to get the hang of, although I am still very much a beginner. I like the macro mode, with which I was able to take a beautifully detailed picture of a rare moth which now adorns my desktop and I'm very pleased with the stitch assist feature, with which I was able to take panoramic photos on my recent hols in Scotland. The photographs have great clarity when full screen on the computer, but I am yet to have them printed out.
There are thirteen shooting modes to get to grips with, but if you're a bit wary of new technology you can always leave it on auto mode which is basically just pressing the shutter and letting the camera do the rest, same as the old days, (for me anyway). You can also set the flash to auto so that you don't need to make any decisions in that quarter either, which is what I was inclined to do at first, but have since become a bit braver, for example; I took a picture in daytime of my cat on the window ledge, (yes I'm sad), which flashed on auto flash and came out fine, but then I took it again, (told you), with the flash switched off and preferred the naturally lit picture.
The LCD screen makes it easy to flick through your pictures and you can play back your mini movies with sound. You can look at the picture you are taking on the screen which makes for better composition, although it can be difficult to see properly in bright light, but I think that might be the case with most, if not all, digital cameras.
The first nine shooting modes are: auto, portrait, landscape, night scene, fast shutter, slow shutter, special scene mode ( this includes settings for foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater and indoor ), stitch assist and movie mode. Then we move into the creative zone which consists of four modes that allow you to select settings such as shutter speed and aperture value but that is an area into which I have yet to venture.
It was very easy to download the images to my computer which I did directly from the CF card provided, but this will be different depending on the type of computer you have. The memory card that comes with the camera was a bit small for my liking so I bought a bigger one. I also splashed out on a carry case and a battery charger with NiMH batteries (nickel metal hydride). The user guide provides statistics on battery performance and the NiMH batteries are far superior to alkaline ones. The user guide is very detailed and helpful.
There is a lot more to this camera than I have covered but I felt it would be pointless to try and explain functions which I haven't used. For those who would want a lot more detail I found the following link:
4 x Megapixel sensor.
3 x Optical zoom.
1.8in colour LCD.
13 shooting modes.
Up to 3 minute movie clips.
9 point AiAF.
PictBridge and Canon Direct Print compatible
Includes 4 x AA batteries, 32Mb compact flash card and digital camera software.